Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Photographing a party under water? Fun at the Aquarium at Pier 39 in San Francisco

Earlier this year, I booked a Bat Mitzvah for last weekend, and upon hearing the details, I was really excited and looking forward to photographing this event. Why? Because, for the evening party, this family was taking over the Aquarium of the Bay located at Pier 39 on the edge of downtown San Francisco. Now, there is nothing wrong with shooting a reception at a hotel banquet room, but I love shooting images somewhere new and unique.

The day started at the Temple with formal pictures of the Bat Mitzvah girl and her family.

Her little brother was a real crack up. He had a ton of energy and no shortage of personality. I had him hop up on this ledge and shot this photo of him "hanging out".

Using the Sigma 85mm 1.4 lens, I shot this photo of the Bat Mitzvah girl reading from the Torah (with a very narrow depth of field).

Just before the service started, I was looking around at the people coming in, and I saw this one gentleman who sat down towards the front of the Temple. There he was, sitting right at the very spot where the sun was peaking in through a high window.  (Photographer's note: I stopped down 1/2 stop to accentuate the contrast, and shot this image. Afterwards, I adjusted the shadows and highlights in Photoshop, but purposely left enough light on the top of the seats so that you could see that he was sitting and waiting.)

When photographing events, my goal is to capture the story of the day. Not only the expected moments, but specifically looking for those unscripted moments which really show the personalities of the participants. This photo shows dad giving his speech to his daughter, at a moment where he broke into a rare and genuine smile, while mom looks on from the background.

During this same speech, dad was so taken with emotion that he fought off tears of joy. Without missing a beat, his daughter reached down and found the "hidden box of tissues" and presented that to her father. I love dad's reaction, but also the smirk on her face too.

And then after the service was over, it was time for me to head into San Francisco to prepare for photographing the party.

Since I had not photographed inside the aquarium before, and I wanted a chance to shoot images of the displays before the party started, I went to the venue hours early. On the drive into downtown SF, I saw this view of the Bay Bridge with the fire boat in the foreground and stopped to get this shot.

Since I grew up in SF and know the city well, I knew that the sea lions like to hang out by Pier 39. After getting settled in at the aquarium and waiting for good cloud coverage (to avoid harsh shadows caused by direct sunlight), I grabbed my Canon 1DX with a 100-400mm lens and headed towards their favorite hangout area. As I left the aquarium, the weather was turning quickly and it started raining. This was my favorite shot from the short visit to their pier.

Then it was time to head back into the aquarium to try and capture images of the sea creatures. (Photographer's note: Not only did I see this as a fun opportunity to photograph the animals, I also figured that many of these images could be used in the family's album. My wife, Annette, does all the album design and loves to have detail shots to use as background spreads, for which to overlay the family's images.)

The first display that I came to was the sardines. They have thousands of these little fish swimming in circles. My goal was to fill the frame with as many fish as possible, trying to show as little blank background space as possible. I saw this as a perfect blue background spread for the album.

Maybe not the best photo for an album, but still very cool. This sea eel posed for me. (Photographer's note: Obviously, you do not not want to shoot images while using a flash, since that light will reflect right off the glass and back at your lens. I find that the best images are taken when shooting at an angle to the glass and not directly into the glass. This will give you less reflections and a clearer shot of your subject behind the glass.)

Great colors!

This was one of my favorite shots from within the aquarium. I spent at least 15 minutes at this one particular display, looking for good shots. After taking time to shoot the more obvious fish, I looked at the bottom of the tank and saw this little guy hiding out.

Next I concentrated on the Pacific Sea Nettles (Jelly Fish).

They may not have any brains, bones or organs, but they sure are cool looking.

Amazing patterns and colors...

Another favorite photo from the day. Nature truly is amazing, isn't it?

The Aquarium of the Bay is known for their underwater tunnels. I have been to numerous aquariums, but never had the chance to photograph inside the underwater walkways. This was awesome. (Photographer's note: I went down to these walkways well before the event to determine proper camera settings. For this test image above, I shot with no flash at ISO 4000 on the Canon 1DX. There was enough ambient light, that a flash was not necessary. I was also concerned about using a flash and having too much light bouncing around the glass.)

Looking up through the glass...

And then the party started and I had 100 people roaming through the displays.

My first priority was to get some photos of the "star of the day" with all of her friends. For this shot, I waited a couple of seconds for some fish to swim above. As luck would have it, this shark came directly over, as if on command. (Photographer's note: I did end up using a diffused flash when the guests arrived. I determined that there was just not enough light on them, so I turned the flash to -1 stop and added just enough light to properly expose the subjects but still have a good exposure in the background.)

Mom and dad relaxing and enjoying the subterranean sites.

Most of my photos, in the underwater tunnels, were taken in portrait mode, so that I could show more of the fish overhead. But, for this shot, I turned the camera back to a landscape mode to give a different perspective. I saw that I had some schools of sardines cruising by, and the flash helped light them up as they swam by.

Some of the kids enjoying the touch pools where they could touch starfish, small sharks and rays.

After an hour or so, the kids moved into the party room to eat and celebrate.

And they had a great time!

At one point in the evening, Patrick (another amazing MC from Denon and Doyle) had the kids up on stage singing. This little guy (who my family is convinced is "Manny" from "Modern Family") belted out a Justin Bieber song.

As the evening wound down, I decided to grab my tripod and head outside in the rain. Good thing that the camera and lens are weather resistant! I really wanted to get a nice night shot from the upper balcony of the aquarium. Knowing that the wet streets would give me some nice reflections, and having Coit Tower and some other marquis buildings in the background, I knew that this would be a great ending shot for the night.

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