San Francisco & Marin Headlands Photography Workshop | January 23rd, 2010

San Francisco/Marin Headlands Photography Workshop - January 23rd, 2010

With the weather California has been having in recent weeks, it was looking more and more like we were going to have to get creative with how we dealt with the rain at the January 23rd San Francisco workshop. At 11AM, it was raining at Baker Beach, where our group was gathering. Things were looking interesting for our class, which begins at noon. Thankfully, the storm broke, and a pocket of dramatic weather followed us around for our entire workshop.

We met on Baker Beach, went over the introductions, and set to finding out what it was that the students wanted to come away with on their day of photography with the Aperture Academy. Our goal is to accommodate, and make sure we address each student and what it is they'd like to learn. Students have varied interests; from learning the use of filters, shooting with the manual settings (which is all we do), the role of ISO, to setting up composition. We'll cover it all.

Our first location is Baker Beach, which was looking great; dramatic skies and huge surf battering the beach. During the first location, Brian and Jim spent time getting to know the students more and going over composition using the surf as a leading line, as well as helping with use of filters, such as a circular polarizer, to help bring out the drama in the sky. This location is just the beginning, but already the enthusiasm of this group was evident... they didn't want to leave!

The second stop of the day was Fort Point, an old fortress located under the Golden Gate Bridge. Here we divided the group up to allow our instructors easier access to some of the tighter quarters in the fort, as well as give them a chance to work more one on one with the students. Jim and Scott's group started inside, photographing a long hallway full of doorways. This location is a great place to work on composition, as well as creative use of white balance to get some interesting effects with the blend of natural and artificial light sources in the location. Brian and Kelly's group were upstairs photographing old brick archways and working on creating balance in an exposure when the subject is so highly symmetrical. When the students had finished one location, they switched, and Jim's group went outside, and Brian's went inside.

The groups did AWESOME! Not only did they finish their "assignments" in a timely manner, but they got creative as well, trying new angles and approaches. We finished our time at the fort photographing the Golden Gate from the top. In all the times we've been to this location, the clouds and conditions have not been more perfect. The wind that usually batters us was gone, and huge white clouds sped past the bridge giving students a chance to get some VERY nice shots of the bridge and bay. This group was gung-ho! It took a little time to convince them that the other spots we had lined up to shoot were just as nice.

We took a very brief break in Sausalito so students could grab a cup of coffee or snack, and Jim could get a parking ticket. Bummer, Jim! We had so enthusiastically photographed the first two locations that we had to take our food break at Rodeo Beach to ensure we were there for sunset...because it looked like it was going to be a good one.

Typically, for our sunset shoot, we walk a bit down Rodeo Beach and photograph the sea-stacks. However, the recent storms had kicked up some pretty large surf, and as Brian put it, "I don't think we can get to the spot without some casualties." In the interest of safety, we opted to shoot the beach and a set of amazing clouds that were radiating with color and light beams. Even though the location changed slightly, the concepts we teach didn't. We work on different length exposures to capture water movement. Considerable time is spent really going over filter use, and the amazing things you can do to help balance an exposure at the time of capture and save yourself a lot of time post processing.

As one student put it, "I was told that you always have to give up something to get something...." With GND filters it's possible to have it all. You can expose your sky, AND your foreground, properly. This part of the workshop is always a favorite of students and instructors. Learning to use filters REALLY opens up a new world of photography they'd never really thought possible.

We stayed until the last colors faded, and on the hike back to the cars we even found some great reflections in the lagoon to photograph. The group was game for everything.

Our evening concluded with a night-time photo session of the Golden Gate Bridge, easily one of the highlights of the trip. This is a small introduction to night photography and long exposure. (Which we cover in more depth at our Night Owls workshop.) Our goal for this spot is to learn how to use f-stop and long exposure to create a dramatic image of the Golden Gate Bridge. Not surprisingly, this is the spot where most batteries die. Long exposures tend to drain a battery pretty quickly (and so does the "chimping"). The high f-stops allow the lights in the compositions to "star" and give those images an extra "wow" factor.

We carefully maneuvered our group over the edge of the cliff and focused on making sure everyone gets that great shot of the bridge that they can take home and show off to friends and family. We always enjoy watching students' faces light up as they see the images on their screen, and realize how much they've learned during the day. They can't wait to get home and process their photos so they can brag to their friends.

Once we reach this point, battery life isn't important...our time has finished and its time to head back home. This group was fantastic; enthusiastic to learn, and eager for instruction...just the way we like it!

Until next time,

Brian, Jim, Kelly, Scott, and everyone at the Aperture Academy

P.S. If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.

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