Rain was on the forecast all day. The weather report listed it at 70% chance, and with the clouds in the sky...it looked inevitable that the sky was going to unload on our workshop at some point that day. Our group of 15 gathered at our traditional Baker Beach meeting point where Aperture Academy Instructors Scott Davis, fresh off the boat from Antarctica, and Brian Rueb, fresh off a night owl workshop were eager to meet them and spend the day helping them achieve some of their educational photographic goals.
The first location of our San Francisco workshop, weather permitting, is Baker Beach...it's a good spot for our instructors to fine tune what each student hopes to learn throughout the day, as well as work on getting some nice images of the Golden Gate Bridge, to boot. We use this time to assess where each student is as far as knowledge of aperture, shutter speed, and composition, and find out which filters, if any, they have...or might want a chance to experiment with that day.
The waves were rough, and we did the best to keep the group on the lookout for any rogue waves. Only one bag took on a little water, and thankfully all the gear was either well protected, or being used...and other than being a bit sandy...it wasn't too bad off. Even though Baker Beach is only an introductory location, it's SO hard to gather our group and get them moving to the next spot. It's so fun to be out photographing and be able to have instructors on hand to help you with those questions or issues that have perplexed you in photography.
The second location we stop at for the day is Fort Point. An old war station located ideally enough, smack underneath the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge. This fort is full of photographic possibilities. Even though we're only able to really focus on a couple of the more symmetrically interesting compositions in the fort, it's clear to see that this place is somewhere somebody could spend all day photographing and not run out of ideas.
The spots we do focus on are amazing though...long hallways full of identical doorways. Brick arches that fade into the depths of the fortress walls. We spend time working on shutter speed and aperture in some pretty tricky lighting. On the outside of the fort, our scene often has harsh light filtering in through the top of the fort, mixing with dark shadows of the areas within the walls. At times we even used our filters to help balance the scene and give those shadow areas a stop or two extra exposure and bring out some of the juicy details.
Inside the fort, the lighting varies between natural ambient light coming in the windows and various types of interior lights. The mix can be hard to deal with from a white balance standpoint, or it can be a fun way to explore how changing your white balance manually can give your composition some more interest and pop. Our goal all day is to learn...and hopefully everyone comes away with several images they really like.
Once the group, who had been split up while shooting the interior of the fort, reconvened on the roof, it was time for a group shot and a bit of time for the students to shoot the mighty Golden Gate from a really nice and seldom seen perspective. On the van ride to our afternoon break I think more than a few students were thinking about the next opportunity they would have to come back and explore the fort in more detail.
We took a lunch break in Sausalito before heading out to Rodeo Beach to capture the sunset. Tides are hard to judge, and safety is a concern for all our classes at the Aperture Academy. We want you to get great images, but not at the expense of getting hurt or losing gear. The waves in the normal spot of the beach we stop to photograph were too big...so we found another nice spot with some great black sand, and set up camp there.
The concepts for ocean photography and long exposure are the same no matter which part of the beach you shoot from. The instructors took the class through a variety of different methods of capturing the scene. Focusing on exposure, f-stop and the use of different filters to gain creative changes or balance out a scene more naturally. It was great to see how many unique takes the group had on the location. It was even more fun to see the "A-HA" moments happen as some of the newer students began to learn what their camera was doing, and realized that "manual" settings aren't quite as intimidating as they had been.
Even though there was a low cloud shelf along the horizon, the upper portions of the sky still provided our group with some good clouds and great color. I think everyone left Rodeo Beach with a shot or two they were looking forward to processing when they returned home.
Everyone should be happy to know that this was the first time instructor Brian Rueb made it out of the Marin Headlands without getting lost. It was a historic day of sorts, and we're all happy for his progress. One out of fifty ain't bad, Bri!
The last spot of the evening is the most iconic. The Golden Gate at night. We hit the highest and best vantage point the headlands has to offer. The group set up right on the bluffs and we started taking our shots. Really focused on placing the bridge in a dominant role in our images. We stopped our shutter down to f16 and higher so we could really get a nice "star effect" on the bridge's lights.
Depending on the goals and gear of our students, we took exposures running in length from 30 seconds to over 5 minutes. Each image would create a different effect. The longer exposures tend to bring out more saturation in the colors, as well as some streaking effects in the sky as clouds roll into the bay. It's another great spot, which makes it so hard to pry everyone away from their cameras and load them back in the car.
Luckily, technology does the trick, and most students have depleted batteries and memory cards by this point in the evening. It helps that they actually want to get home so they can begin to sift through their images and start sharing them with friends.
By 8:30 pm the class has come to a close, and another group of happy students are headed home. And while their workshop is over, they will be able to take their new found tips and tricks with them for the rest of their lives.
Until next time,
Brian, Scott, 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.