Most of us use bridges every single day and while it is true that many - big and small, old and new - of them aren’t worth photographing, there are a great many that are extremely photogenic. These are impressive structures that often dominate the area in which they are situated.
Photo by David Pritchard
1. Safety First
Before you head off to the nearest suspension bridge with your camera bag, it is worth saying that you should take care and be considerate in your pursuit of bridge images. Park only where you are allowed, stick to recognised pedestrian areas and do not endanger yourself or anyone else – that includes tripping fellow visitors with your tripod.
2. Lens Choices
Anything goes in respect of lens options. Wide-angles can give dramatic lines and obviously work best if you can walk onto the bridge itself so you can wander around looking for bold foreground details. Set a small lens aperture for an extensive depth-of-field to make the most of scenes. Wides are obviously great too, to put a bridge into context with its surroundings if you can't get back far enough. If you find using a wide-angle lens gives you a shot with too much sky and land in it try shooting in a panoramic format.
Photo by David Pritchard
If you want to compress perspective, it is time to fit a telephoto lens. Long lenses are handy too for isolating structure details and the like. Longer lenses give a stronger flattening effect and it can look great when there are lots of lines to compress.
3. Think Accessories
A polariser is worth considering, particularly on sunny days when it can enrich blue skies as well as eliminate glare for saturated colours. Just watch your apertures and shutter speeds.
It is worth having a tripod in the car and although you might not need it for most of the time, it will pay for itself when the lighting levels drop or when you want to use slow shutter speeds to blur traffic.
4. When To Go?
Time of day and lighting are two crucial aspects to consider. Most weather conditions work for bridges although one exception to that is dull, flat, blank sky days. Early morning or late evening are good times when a low sun gives oblique lighting to highlight textures in the scene and the warm lighting adds to the mood. If you make the effort to get there for the evening light you might as well as hang around for twilight and a bit of low light photography. This is where the tripod and remote release are essential. A head torch comes in handy too as the light levels drop away.
5. Shoot Detail
As well as overall views of the bridge, do get in close and shoot details too. Nuts and bolts, suspension wires, supports, signs and much more can make for good images. You could even set yourself a mini project and shoot a series of images that sums up the structure. This is a great idea for older structures but works for new bridges too. Look for interesting patterns when working at these close distances which can be turned into graphical, abstract shots.
Photo by David Pritchard
6. Choose Your Angle
The angle you shoot a bridge at can make it look more powerful. When you see a bridge in the distance consider where else you could go nearer to the bridge or from other angles to get better / different viewpoints.
7. Longer Shutter Speeds
Once daylight has given way to twilight it is time to explore the long shutter speeds of your camera. You could try the B (Bulb) setting where the shutter stays open so long as the shutter button is held down using the remote release. Most advanced cameras have lengthy shutter speed options available, and if you want to shoot longer B is the setting to use, but it is important to make sure your battery has plenty of charge. If the battery fails before the image is finished and saved you will lose it.
8. Contrast Can Be A Problem
On a bright day the contrast between the sunlit bridge's walls and the shadowed arches can be very different. If you take a meter reading from the lit bricks they'll come out fine but underneath the arches they'll be no detail as it'll be black. If you expose for the darker shadow areas the bricks will still be light but they won't have any detail. To fix this, you can either expose for the highlights (brick) and use flash to fill in the shadow area or bracket the shot.
9. Guide The Eye
You can use bridges as paths that lead the eye through your shot or use colourful lines created by traffic crossing the bridge when captured with slower shutter speeds to guide the eye through the image. You can also use bridge arches as in-picture frames to focus the eye on a particular part of the shot. Just keep an eye on the exposure when doing this to make sure the scene doesn't appear too dark.
Photo by Rick Hanson
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