San Francisco & Marin Headlands Photography Workshop | November 7th, 2009

San Francisco/Marin Headlands Photography Workshop - November 7th, 2009

When the waves near The Bay Area swell to gigantic sizes in winter, surfers come from all around the world to ride them...they call it Mavericks. With swells off the coast reaching 30' plus, we decided to make our last workshop of the 2009 year a little more interesting. Maybe we're mavericks a little bit too.

Our last Aperture Academy workshop of the year was also our largest group to date. In addition to our regular instructors, Stephen Oachs and myself, Brian Rueb, we were joined by instructors Scott Davis and Jim Patterson. Scott and Jim were along to help ensure every student got enough one-on-one instruction so that they would come away from the day having learned what they came to learn.

We have students of all skill levels on our in-field workshops, and this one was no exception. For some, this was the first time they used their cameras on manual. For others, they joined our group because they wanted to go home knowing how to use their GND filters to help balance out a scene. At all of our workshops, we take our students from the skill level where they are to where they want to be.

Having four instructors helped, too, when the waves were crashing on the shore at our first stop on Baker Beach...someone has to watch the ocean.

Usually, during normal swells, we use our first location as a chance to allow the instructors to gauge where every student is skill-wise, what type of gear they have, and find out what their goal for the day is. We also spend considerable time working with polarizing filters, and composition at the first shoot. However, on this day, with waves rushing the entire beach, we first found out how agile our group was! On more than one occasion, we were forced to sprint to higher ground to avoid the ocean's fury. I must say, the "play of the day" was when one student DOVE over a log with camera held high in order to preserve his gear and dry clothing.

We shot on the beach for about an hour, and then, considering ourselves lucky to all be mostly dry, we left for Fort Point, the second spot of the day. Inside the fort, we broke into three groups, each setting out to shoot a different area.

While two of the groups were inside, the third was on the roof to shoot the Golden Gate Bridge and some of the other unique and amazing architecture that Fort Point has to offer. On this day, sun rays were filtering through the bridge's steel girders, adding to the opportunities. Inside, while shooting the old brick archways on the second level, we used our GND filters sideways and learned how it can help balance a scene. At another location, we worked on indoor white balance, and using symmetry and repetitive shape to create dynamic composition. The fort offers a ton of opportunities to learn...and to come away with great shots.

It never fails, we always have trouble rounding up everyone from the fort. When we've shown them some of the highlights, and larger scenes the area has to offer, the students begin to notice some of the many small details in the fort that are equally as fun to photograph. Fort Point is one of those spots that a person could photograph much longer than the hour and a half we spend there. Because we teach people about their own cameras, many students come away from the workshops with a list of ideas and places to return to on their own in the future, and the fort is usually at the top of their list!

With the waves in to stay, the sunset shoot was sure to be an adventure, so it was good to take the scheduled break in Sausalito and allow students to get some coffee, grab a snack, and get a little rest before we headed out to the Marin Headlands for the final portion of the day.

The waves at Rodeo Beach were so big that we found ourselves shooting from the rocks RIGHT up against the cliff. Even though we were pinned against the cliff, we were forced to seek higher ground a couple of times when large breakers overtook the beach. The excitement the big waves caused was most evident in the photography we were able to capture.

Since the sky was great, we practiced shooting longer exposures where the waves would streak, and give the images that soft look that many students were unable to understand before the workshop. We also did some work speeding up the shutters, to try and capture the behemoth waves as they exploded on the sea stacks.

It was a great time shooting. Even though a few of us got a bit wet, we still had a heck of a time persuading everyone to leave the beach to go to the final spot of the evening...night photography of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The last half of the day is always dynamic for photography. Weather patterns make every evening a little different on the headlands. This night was crystal clear, and the clarity of the bridge and city was unlike anything we'd seen with our previous groups.

There was a chill in the air and large storm-like swells off the coast, but we were fortunate that the wind was minimal on the headlands overlooking the bridge. Normally at this spot we discuss with the students the best ways to keep their tripods from blowing over...however, this time, with no real winds, we were able to relax, move around and try a variety of different exposures.

Some of the students have lived in the Bay Area for many years and have NEVER been to some of the places we took them to that day. It's always rewarding for the Aperture Academy staff to see and hear students talking about how much they like the spots, and how they'd never thought of shooting there before.

Once again, the night drew to a close, and we'd been blessed with a perfect day of shooting conditions. The students were happy with what they'd learned, the places they'd seen, and the new friends they'd made. The instructors were pleased, as always, with the enthusiasm the students arrived with, as well as the unique and imaginative perspectives they put on the images they came away with. We can honestly say that just when we think we've seen every good angle a place has to offer, a group will show us new ways to see a place...and we look forward to that with every new group that comes through the Aperture Academy.

Thanks to a great group, for a great day!

Until next time,

Brian, Stephen, Scott, Jim, and the rest of the team at 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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