Bridging The Gap - Top Tips On Photographing Bridges From John Duder

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 as John Duder's been finding out.

|  Landscape and Travel
 Add Comment

Four of the five bridges that Newcastle is famous for: at the very top, a slice of the Tyne bridge, with the High Level Bridge below it. Moving down, Queen Chloe’s Bridge and the Swing Bridge. The Redheugh Bridge is not visible, though it’s behind the others, somewhere! The Nik Efex detail extractor helps bring out detail in a weak sky.

Four of the five bridges that Newcastle is famous for: at the very top, a slice of the Tyne bridge, with the High-Level Bridge below it. Moving down, Queen Chloe’s Bridge and the Swing Bridge. The Redheugh Bridge is not visible, though it’s behind the others, somewhere! The Nik Efex detail extractor helps bring out detail in a weak sky.


Bridging the gap

In 1972, I arrived at Durham University to study Engineering Science. Although I was ‘advised’ to change course to a general science degree on the grounds of poor maths (not to mention laziness), I have some happy memories of that year.

During the first term, some of the lecturers made an extra effort to put the theory into context: Dr Clive Preece structured his lectures around the QUAD Electrostatic loudspeaker, and Professor Gordon Higginson lectured on bridges.

 

1 This interesting bridge was erected next to the Durham University sports ground around the time that I was a student, I think. The view illustrates Professor Higginson’s point perfectly: you can see how the whole bridge is held up by cables from the A-frame, anchored firmly to the ground on the left bank.

This interesting bridge was erected next to the Durham University sports ground around the time that I was a student, I think. The view illustrates Professor Higginson’s point perfectly: you can see how the whole bridge is held up by cables from the A-frame, anchored firmly to the ground on the left bank.

 

A measure of my poor technical understanding is that the only thing I recall from the lectures is that you can’t appreciate a bridge when you’re standing on it. To see it, to understand the structure, you have to be off to one side of it, able to see the whole thing.

That’s not necessarily true of photographs of bridges, though, as the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse shows!

In a quieter way, my shot of Prebends' Bridge in Durham may make a similar point - an interesting picture may not tell you much about the structure, but say a lot about the location.

 

The exception that proves the rule: Prebends’ Bridge in Durham which is to a good extent a viewing platform for the River Wear and the Cathedral.

The exception that proves the rule: Prebends’ Bridge in Durham which is to a good extent a viewing platform for the River Wear and the Cathedral.

 

Ways of looking 

You can view a bridge as architecture, or you can look at it in its context. Precisely how you photograph it will depend on what you want to show, how you see it yourself.

As it happens, Durham is well-equipped with bridges, both old and new, and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a few miles north, has a magnificent selection of bridges that celebrate the relationship between people, engineering, and a major river from early in the industrial age to the new millennium.

 

2 A more conventional view of Prebends’ Bridge sets it in context. The standard view of the weir on the Wear is taken from near the building that’s visible through the central arch.

A more conventional view of Prebends’ Bridge sets it in context. The standard view of the weir on the Wear is taken from near the building that’s visible through the central arch.

 

I took the opportunity of a holiday in the area to revisit both places, and spend some time taking pictures specifically of the bridges. My aim was to explore the widest possible gamut of techniques and approaches (and, indeed, lenses).

In some cases, access to take a picture is very difficult: the Kingsgate Bridge, next to Durham Students' Union, spans the river on a curving stretch of the river, between high and wooded banks, so that a fisheye lens is needed for a close view! This can require some care in composition to avoid distortion of straight lines that makes it hard to appreciate the structure.

 

3 Kingsgate Bridge, matching the now-ageing Student Union building’s rough concrete finish, is an elegant, leggy construction, which owes much of its detailing to personal work by Ove Arup of (amazingly) Ove Arup and Partners. Just out of view at the top right, the bridge angles across to meet the bank above my shooting position.

Kingsgate Bridge, matching the now-ageing Student Union building’s rough concrete finish, is an elegant, leggy construction, which owes much of its detailing to personal work by Ove Arup of (amazingly) Ove Arup and Partners. Just out of view at the top right, the bridge angles across to meet the bank above my shooting position.

 

Where space permits, a longer lens can be really useful for contextual images, giving a forensic view of the bridge in its context, though I have to admit to not, usually, carrying anything longer than a 135mm myself.

A long lens is also good for details - again, I tend to use my 85mm lens much of the time, but a big structure like the Tyne Bridge may require something a bit longer if you’re shooting from below.

 

Personal experience

I was particularly pleased with my fisheye shots of the new Millennium Bridge over the Tyne. Over the last few months, using Lightroom to import images from my memory cards, I’ve let the software convert from Sony RAW files to DNG, with a view to long-term compatibility with new software (and being able to see a thumbnail of the non-JPG files in Windows Explorer). And I’ve also enabled auto-correction of lens aberrations.

 

4 The Millennium Bridge between Gateshead and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, shot close-up with a fisheye lens. Framing is crucial, and easy to get wrong with extreme lenses: imagine this without the top of the arch, or the pedestrians cut off.

The Millennium Bridge between Gateshead and Newcastle-upon-Tyne shot close-up with a fisheye lens. Framing is crucial and easy to get wrong with extreme lenses: imagine this without the top of the arch, or the pedestrians cut off.

 

Imagine my surprise, though, when I came to edit the pictures for this article and found that the DNG files are significantly cropped. The bridge arch that I’d placed well inside the frame was cut off… Fortunately, I discovered this in time to do a second set of DNG conversions, having disabled the autocorrection of lens aberrations. I can live with this pretty easily, as I use prime lenses almost exclusively, and they are (fisheye apart) pretty much free of aberration.

So practical and utterly transferrable hint number one: you may get a more geometrically-correct image if you enable corrections on import, but you may also get significant cutoff. Nobody told me - it’s utterly logical when you think about it, but beware!

 

5 Elvet Bridge in Durham, on a distinctly grey day. There’s a picture to be had by cropping below the parapet of the bridge, all about the ducks – but for a shot of the bridge, having the full shape matters!

Elvet Bridge in Durham, on a distinctly grey day. There's a picture to be had by cropping below the parapet of the bridge, all about the ducks - but for a shot of the bridge, having the full shape matters!

 

Skies

It’s quite difficult to avoid including the sky in a picture of a bridge. The usual advice (to frame so that the sky isn’t included if it’s blank and boring) simply won’t work with a subject that’s mainly above you, particularly if you want to show the full context. As I use the Nik Efex package quite a lot for portraits and nudes, I find that it’s often a good idea to use the Detail Extractor filter in such situations: beware, though, that you may need to adjust the blacks with Levels afterwards to avoid an overall weak look. Sophisticated digital processors will have other options (possibly involving more layers than I own lenses), but to bring out the detail in a weak sky in a hurry, it’s got a lot going for it.

You may be able to find a very high vantage point (as I did for the shot of a tourist boat going under Elvet Bridge), but it’s more the exception than the rule. Consequently, you may need to resort to extreme measures to avoid a big blank area, particularly if you are shooting against the clock (for instance, on holiday, as I was in Durham).

The unusual

The fact that you’re shooting a bridge shouldn’t blind you to other opportunities, especially if you use something a bit out of the ordinary.

 

6 Elvet Bridge from the other side, shot from the stairwell of a multi-storey car park. I spotted the boat on the far side of the bridge, and it was quite hard to believe that it would fit through any of the spans. Hydrodynamics help, though – it’s actually much harder than you’d think to scrape the sides of a narrow passage. (Warning: but NOT impossible!)

Elvet Bridge from the other side shot from the stairwell of a multi-storey car park. I spotted the boat on the far side of the bridge, and it was quite hard to believe that it would fit through any of the spans. Hydrodynamics help, though - it’s actually much harder than you’d think to scrape the sides of a narrow passage. (Warning: but NOT impossible!)


 

As I was making my way from the car park to the riverside in Durham, I saw a boat approaching – not the rowing boat that you’d expect, but a passenger vessel that’s much larger than you’d expect to see on a narrow and winding river. I shot it as it passed under Elvet Bridge. The footer photograph shows an even more unusual approach to going under a bridge...

 

Details

It’s almost always worth looking at bits of the subject, the details, emphasising one aspect of the visual appeal to achieve emotional impact. This works with everything, from portraits and images of cars to animals and even bridges!

Below the Tyne Bridge, for instance, you can find amazing shots of the way that it’s put together: the number of rivets in the structure was wonderfully apparent when I walked underneath, courtesy of sunlight reflected from the surface of the river. The degree of planning, the hard physical labour of putting a bridge together, is there to be read by anyone who lets their eyes linger. Patterns and surface detail will appeal to the photographer’s eyes.

 

7 An underview of the Tyne Bridge. A bright day would often require that this used heavy positive exposure compensation if there was much sky in view: here, hiding the sun behind the structure, and a lot of sunlight reflected up from the river made it simpler.

An under view of the Tyne Bridge. A bright day would often require that this used heavy positive exposure compensation if there was much sky in view: here, hiding the sun behind the structure, and a lot of sunlight reflected up from the river made it simpler.

 

Occasionally, I can sit down and write an article straight off – but most require a couple of sessions at the keyboard. On the day that I did the heavy lifting for this piece, I broke off to walk to the shops and back. This involved a couple of hundred yards along the canal bank, and then crossing at a place where there’s a new footbridge, built in the Fifties or Sixties to supplement the existing road bridge (which is wide enough for two cars, providing not more than one is a Kensington tractor).

The footbridge is very basic – a concrete slab between two points – but there’s still a picture to be had, or the railings: repetitive patterns are always good for a picture or two.

 

An absolutely boring bridge, next to a not-very-special one. But a monochrome conversion, and careful framing at a smallish aperture let the pattern and leading lines make a picture, while the Belisha Beacon gives some context – this is a busy urban residential area.

An absolutely boring bridge, next to a not-very-special one. But a monochrome conversion and careful framing at a smallish aperture let the pattern and leading lines make a picture, while the Belisha Beacon gives some context - this is a busy urban residential area.

 

Unusual views

I started with the engineer’s idea that you need to see a bridge from the side to understand its overall construction, but to see the detail, you need to look elsewhere. Maybe we need to follow the engineering idea a bit further: what makes the bridgework? For instance, a feature of the Kingsgate Bridge is a pair of expansion joints in the sidewalls, which could, I suppose, be taken as being a decorative flourish.

 

8 Expansion joint in the Kingsgate Bridge in Durham. I suspect this keeps the whole lot standing up there above the River Wear…

Expansion joint in the Kingsgate Bridge in Durham. I suspect this keeps the whole lot standing up there above the River Wear…

 

Developing things further, don’t shy away from doing the unconventional, and making your subject a minor element in a larger frame. For instance, from the very-productive Newcastle end of the Millennium Bridge, I shot back toward the Tyne Bridge, using it as a sort of end-stop to the geometrical glass structure I was standing next to. The iconic shape is strong, even though it’s a small part of the frame (I’m expecting to get a few comments about this.)

 

9 Tyne Bridge from next to the Millennium Bridge in Newcastle: a 24mm lens distorts the relative sizes a bit.

Tyne Bridge from next to the Millennium Bridge in Newcastle: a 24mm lens distorts the relative sizes a bit.

 

10 I shot through the piers of the High Level Bridge, compressing the Swing Bridge and the Tyne Bridge. This is a slight crop, but not an extreme one – my favourite focal length, 85mm, is very versatile.

I shot through the piers of the High-Level Bridge, compressing the Swing Bridge and the Tyne Bridge. This is a slight crop, but not an extreme one - my favourite focal length, 85mm, is very versatile.

 

Summary

I hope that I’ve convinced you that bridges are worth photographing, whether they are large and iconic, or small and rather niche. And also that you might approach them with a full camera bag, possibly with the intention of using every lens you own during a day’s shooting (the absolute opposite of the idea that you should go out with a single lens on the camera).

To come back to Professor Higginson, the whole exercise may lead you to look at bridges afresh, and see whether they hang down from tall towers, or simply rest on the banks of the river or cutting. For the curious, the whole world of physics and engineering is out there, ready to be explored with camera and lens…

 

Watch out for the unusual, especially when you’re abroad. The Red Bull Racers were in town when I arrived in Budapest a couple of years ago, staying in a hotel two or three hundred yards from the Chain Bridge. I can’t imagine anything like this being allowed in London…

Watch out for the unusual, especially when you’re abroad. The Red Bull Racers were in town when I arrived in Budapest a couple of years ago, staying in a hotel two or three hundred yards from the Chain Bridge. I can’t imagine anything like this being allowed in London...

 

About Author: John Duder 

John Duder has been an amateur photographer for fifty years, which surprises him, as he still reckons he’s 17.

Over the last year or so, he’s been writing articles for ePHOTOzine, as well as being a member of the Critique Team. He’s also been running occasional lighting workshops and providing one-to-one photographic tuition.

He remains addicted to cameras, lenses, and film.

Support this site by shopping with one of our affiliates: Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon CA, ebay UK, Save 10% with Eversure Insurance.
*It doesn't cost you anything extra when you use these links, but it does support the site, helping keep ePHOTOzine free to use, thank you.

Other articles you might find interesting...

Photography Tips For A Frosty Morning
Must-Read Night Urban Photography Tips
Tips On Shooting Autumn Landscapes In The Lake District
Autumn Photography Top Tips In Bad Weather
Tips On Photographing Detail In Graveyards
Autumn Bad Weather Landscape Tips
Capture The Perfect Vista With These Photography Tips
Autumn Photography Tips: Fallen Leaves

Comments


JJGEE 14 7.6k 18 England
22 Oct 2019 10:41PM
An interesting article excellently illustrated with numerous images.

I have quite a famous bridge nearby but have never been there to photograph it....... Pooh Sticks Bridge

Join ePHOTOzine for free and remove these adverts.

GeorgeP Plus
12 55 23 United States
23 Oct 2019 3:54AM
A fascinating essay - and the illustrations remind me that you can't appreciate bridges properly if you only look at them through the windscreen as you drive over them. Thanks John.
dudler Plus
16 971 1533 England
23 Oct 2019 8:24AM
Pooh Sticks Bridge sounds like a very worthy subject! I hope you'll post a link here when you've got the shot. A game we've all played, when Young, or with our own children...
27 Oct 2019 2:03PM
Thank you for expanding my understanding of bridges. They are so necessary in our modern society, yet we rarely think about how wonderful they are. I can only imagine what it must have bee like without them.
dudler Plus
16 971 1533 England
27 Oct 2019 3:02PM
I'm glad you enjoyed the article, Lynne!

11864_1572188460.jpg



I was so annoyed that I couldn't find this picture for the article - a friend crossing a stone clapper bridge.

That used to be 50 points in the I-Spy Book of Bridges, right up there with Tower Bridge...

Sign In

You must be a member to leave a comment.

ePHOTOzine, the web's friendliest photography community.

Join For Free

Upload photos, chat with photographers, win prizes and much more.