Our group of 13 eager photo enthusiasts met Phil and I in Sausalito for a brief orientation before we set out for our night of exploration and photography in one of the loveliest cities for night shooting, San Francisco.
Photography is a science of sorts and when it comes to night photography there are no ‘one step fixes’ for shooting the best images. Each night and each situation is different. Our goal is to help the students get the basics down more, and get to the point where they have a system in place that will help them make the best of every situation they encounter…the night shooting in particular!
We begin at the site of the old world’s fair…the Palace of Fine Arts. Here we assemble at the pond on the outskirts of the wonderful pillars and great dome. We go over the basics…aperture…shutter speed, and ISO. Our cameras are firmly planted on our tripods so that means our ISO’s are set to 100…this means we have lower noise in our images, and are able to counteract the exposure issues by adding more time to our shutter speeds…really, as much time as needed in order to make the best exposure.
The palace is beautiful in the first 30 minutes after sunset as the sky fades to a crisp blue, and balances in the most aesthetic way with the complementary oranges of the palace. As the sky fades from blue to black, we go over dynamic range and the different ways to deal with that either through multiple exposures, or by making trade-offs in camera.
We finish the Palace and head for the warmth of our van so folks can get the feeling back in their fingers as we head to the twists and turns of Lombard Street…one of the cities most iconic locations. This street allows us to work on the concept of motion blur using the headlights and taillights of cars to help create cool shots of this little slice of photographic paradise.
From the top we photograph the taillights as the navigate the twists and turns…the red streaks in the cars come from a combination of multiple cars going down the street…and the more cars the better the shot. From the bottom, we’re after headlights, and headlights are much brighter, and will overexpose almost instantly…so we try to minimize the number of cars in the exposure by limiting it to 1-2 cars, and covering up our lenses with dark clothing while added cars pass. This ‘burn and dodge’ technique is one of the fun, unorthodox ways to help create stunning night images. Lombard street is always good for photography and a few laughs as we watch cars and drivers do silly things as they navigate the twists and turns of the street.
Our next stop if North Beach for a little snack before we head down to the Embarcadero for some shooting of the Bay Bridge. This shot is an absolute must for any night photography in the city. The tide was in making the foreground pilings barely visible, but still providing some great foreground balance for this stunning vista. Though the mouth to the bay was socked in with fog, only a couple miles inland the sky is great and everyone is able to come away with some stunning images of the bridge. Phil and I go over the settings again, starting with f-stop, and moving through shutter speed, ISO (still set to 100) and then covering white balance as it relates to night shooting…another topic we have covered multiple times throughout the night.
It’s getting late, but everyone was a good sport, and we tried to make a final stop at the Golden Gate Bridge, but the fog had other ideas…and shut us down, even then we still were out until well after midnight enjoying the best of what the city had to offer us…it truly was a beautiful and fun night.
Until Next Time,
Brian, Phil, and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team
P.S. If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.
NOTE: You can see more workshop photos below the comments.