Article updated Dec 2012. Article by Peter Bargh of ePHOTOzine
It's hard not to cross a bridge on a long journey - they help us get across railway tracks, rivers, canyons and valleys. They are also great structures for photographic subjects. But don't just snap away when you see one! Think a little and you'll get more rewarding photographs.
Photo by David Clapp - www.davidclapp.co.uk
Change 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.
This view was spotted from the village bypass. It's taken from another bridge that crosses the river which allows a higher and more distant viewpoint. You get to see the bridge in its entirety and locality.
I took a short drive into the village and parked the car near to the bridge. In this case there was a path that you could walk along that took you by the river and away from the bridge. This allows a more interesting viewpoint that fills the frame with the bridge, but still shows village life in the background (bottom left shot). The view of the bridge from the other side of the river just has trees behind and makes the bridge look more remote.
By walking down to the bank right on the edge of the river you can create a much more dramatic composition making the bridge look much more powerful. A wide angle lens makes the close point larger and the distant point appear to shrink towards the vanishing point.
Watch the contrast
On a bright day the contrast between the sunlit face 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. This means you'd have to take two shots: one that takes a reading for the sunlit face and the other for the shadowed arches and combine the best bits from each using image editing software such as Photoshop or a HDR program if you have one. Make sure you have your tripod with you if you plan on doing this as the smallest of movements will mean your shots won't line up correctly when put together during post production.
Look for character
Old bridges provide lots of opportunities. Some have eroded steps and stone carvings to focus in on. Stepping back and using a longer lens will allow you to capture both aspects without showing the whole bridge.
Search for patterns
Modern constructions made of metal catch the light and create interesting patterns. You can use them as the eye sees them but if you have a zoom or telephoto lens you can home in on just a small area of the bridge to produce a graphic shot.
|Bridge over the Rhine in Cologne.
Lead in lines
You can use bridges as paths that lead the eye through your shot. It works particularly well when you have an object at the end of the bridge for the eye to move to. Make sure you pack a wide-angle lens when trying this to get all the detail in shot.
Photo by David Clapp - www.davidclapp.co.uk
If you have a bridge that's full of interesting detail but it's sat against a backdrop that's not so pleasing on the eye, move in close and use a wide aperture to throw the background out of focus.
Think about the format
Wide-angle lenses are great for capturing the whole structure as well as foreground detail (don't forget to use a small aperture to make sure you get front to back picture sharpness). However, a wide-angle lens can lead to too much sky and land appearing at the top and bottom of your shot. If you find this to be a problem when out shooting just use a panoramic format.
In this example of the famous bridge in San Francisco there's too much sand and sky but by cropping in focus falls back on the bridge again rather than what's around it.
Some cameras, such as the Samsung NX200
, now feature panoramic modes making shooting them a breeze. If yours doesn't, have a read of our previous tutorials on how to create panoramas in camera. You can also crop the top and bottom off your shot during post production to create the panoramic format.
Create a frame
Use a bridge as a natural frame for another subject within your picture. As mentioned, just watch your exposure if you do this as it'll be darker under the bridge than it is on either side and bracket if you need to.
Time of day
As with all photography early morning or later in the evening gives you light that will highlight texture and also help add a touch of warmth to your shots. This doesn't mean you shouldn't head out on bright days though as strong shadows will make detail such as statues really stand out from the main structure.
In among the city streets find a bridge that sits over a busy road and have a go at capturing light trails. The trails of light are created by lights from the traffic which get pulled into long lines of colour when you use long exposures. Most DSLRs will happily create shutter speeds of 30 seconds but if you want something a little longer you'll need to switch to the B (bulb) setting. You will need a tripod for this technique so remember to pack it. You may also want to take a shot with a much shorter shutter speed as street lamps and other light sources which aren't moving can appear overexposed in shots taken with longer shutter speeds. You can then combine the shots once you're back home.