Photographing Bridges

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Preparations

Why do you want to photograph a bridge? What do you want your photograph to say? Without answers to those questions, you will not get the best photograph you could take. You may wish to make an artistic picture, or one that could win a photographic competition. If so, this page will not help you. It only deals with photography directed at recording a bridge and its details and structure from a technical point of view.

As with any other type of outdoor photography, foreknowledge can be valuable. Knowing in advance the predicted position of the sun relative to you subject, and knowing the current weather forecast can be advantageous. Knowing the position of the sun is of course useful only if you know the position and orientation of the bridge. Thus a map is essential, preferably on a large scale such as 1:25000. The map will tell you whether there is a public footpath which might offer views of the bridge. It will tell you whether the terrain is wooded or not, though it won't show the solitary tree that so often spoils an otherwise perfect view. If trees are likely to obtrude in the view, you may be forced to take your pictures in winter, when at least there may be partial views through leafless trees.

A map will also show the contours and the lie of the land, so that you can work out beforehand whether you can obtain distant views as well as close ones.

Your photograph might be taken to illustrate a technical detail: you might have known of it beforehand, or you might have discovered it on arrival. It is in fact a good idea to walk around as much as possible, under the bridge on both sides, over the bridge, and away from it from both abutments in both directions. Some of these actions may be impossible because the land is inaccessible, or obstacles may obstruct the view.

Once you have a good impression of the bridge and its details, you can plan the pictures that you want to make. You might wish to emphasise the grandeur of the bridge, its slenderness, its beauty, or even its ugliness, if you don't like it. But be fair; try to find its good points as well. And it may have been built in a period of economic difficulty, or at a time when there was a vogue for the style you don't like. 

Sometimes the accessible side of a bridge is in shade. Some bridges have been widened, with one side modern and one side old, and the old side may not be accessible. If you have time, you can go and do some other sight-seeing and come back when the sun is at a better angle. Better still is to plan ahead using a map. But you can't plan for unforeseen obstacles.

Choice of Lenses

Many bridges make attractive subjects for photography, and it it is usually easy to get a reasonable picture, except when there isn't a suitably distant view-point. In those cases a wide-angle lens might be needed, but care is needed to avoided distorting the proportions of the subject. Ideally a picture should from a distance from which it fills exactly the same viewing angle as the original subject. Then the image has the same proportions as the subject. This would be difficult to achieve with an extreme wide-angle lens, unless the picture were made very big, and it would render telephoto lenses rather pointless.

One advantage of a wide-angle lens is the ability to move in closer, thus increasing the chance of eliminating images of unwanted objects, such as street furniture or branches of trees. Such a lens can be used to emphasise the size of the bridge if there is a person in the background. It is also useful if you cannot retreat far from the bridge. For a really good effect, the picture should be printed at a large size, so that the viewer's gaze moves over the image rather as it would in reality. But this effect cannot be made too literal - with a lens giving a 90 degree view, you would have to be very close to the photograph to get the same view. Many of the earlier pictures in this site are too small, with poor resolution, to minimize download time, but later ones are generally bigger.

Zoons3.jpg (51456 bytes)This is not a good way to use a wide-angle lens.  The curves and proportions of this attractive bridge have been spoiled by the poor choice of lens and view-point, and the bridge has not even been properly framed.  Sometimes a view like this can work, for example with a linear concrete beam bridge, when it can emphasise the mass or the length.  In such cases a lens of shorter focal length might do a better job.

BNorthNew2.jpg (32352 bytes)Here is an attempt to make such a picture, using a 28 mm lens. Sometimes the illumination of the underside of a large bridge can be made interesting by reflection from water or even from general surroundings. A picture like this certainly should not be too dark.

HerefordPlaque.jpg (122525 bytes)Here is another use of a wide-angle lens. Plaques are very often well above eye-level. If you have a very sharp lens with small distortion, you can use a small portion of the image. Set the plane of the film in the camera exactly parallel to the plane of the plaque (not easy), and make the image as big as you can while keeping it in frame. With a round plaque like this, any barrel distortion will not show as much as with a rectangular one.

It is important to avoid sloping horizons or water levels, and equally important to avoid converging or diverging verticals, unless they are deliberately used. With a wide-angle lens it is important to get the verticals right at the expense of composition, at least in cases where cropping can produce the required image. If your lens is very sharp, you can hold camera horizontally to keep the verticals parallel, and you will be able to crop the unwanted foreground later. Don't forget that zoom lenses may produce a small amount of barrel distortion or pincushion distortion, which will be more obvious if there are long straight lines near the edges of the picture.

GW1.jpg (64210 bytes)The camera was tilted upwards when this picture was taken, and so the verticals are sloping inwards. The picture is about 38 years old, and has lost much of its colour, except the blue. It is also dusty. Definitely a poor effort, though there was no choice of lens at the time, and no choice of view-point.

 

Lighting

Lighting is very important, and studying a large-scale map may help in choosing the best time of day and time of year for a given bridge.  A 1:50000 or 1:25000 map will show whether access is possible using a right of way.  Don't forget that a bridge has twp ends, and two sides, producing four basic nearby view-points.  More distant views may be modified by a bend in a road or a river.   A map may also show obscuring objects such as power lines or clumps of trees.  Trees, in fact, can make it necessary to photograph in winter, when at least they have no leaves.  Lighting can obscure or illuminate the lines of the structure, depending on its direction.  Masonry, for example, can be picked out more effectively with side-light.  Strong mid-day sun may well produce deep shadows under a bridge, while morning or evening light may be softer, and more able to light up the area under the bridge.  With suitable illumination, water under a bridge can provide useful fill-in lighting of the underside.

LondonRdKey1.jpg (58938 bytes) LondonRdKey2.jpg (43263 bytes)

These two pictures were taken within a few seconds of each other, but they give quite different impressions, because they were taken from different positions.

GlosErode4.jpg (55519 bytes)RossWiltonXM.jpg (97786 bytes)WyeBV.jpg (188176 bytes)To get a clear picture showing atmospheric damage to these limestone and sandstone blocks, the first two photographs were taken when the line of the sun was only about ten to twenty degrees from the plane of the wall.  Frontal illumination would have shown much less, as the third picture shows.

WyeBypassRibs.jpg (141588 bytes)WyeBypassRibs2.jpg (134043 bytes)The underside of a bridge can be very important.  If the sun is illuminating water under the bridge, the reflected light can play a part in the picture.  Deep shadow under a bridge is not always attractive.  These examples show how light reflected from a low autumn sun has clarified the cellular structure of the bridge, with pre-stressed cantilevers and concrete stiffening diaphragms.

Foreground and Background

Don't forget the foreground and background.  Look all around the viewfinder for obtrusive objects that may spoil the result if noticed later.  Make sure that the camera is exactly horizontal - you do not want sloping horizons or converging verticals, unless you are aiming for a deliberate special effect. Always bear in mind that the picture may be cropped, so there is no necessity to fill the frame in all directions.  

With a camera, for example an APS type,  that can produce different formats, there is much scope for composition.  A 6 X 6 cm camera also offers great scope.  A 50 X 35 mm strip from a 6 X 6 negative or slide can be put it a 35 mm scanner and scanned in two parts.  The two images can be joined to make a panoramic view.  If the settings of the scanner are unchanged between the scans (don't do a pres-scan for the second part) the result can be very good.  This was done in a number of cases in order to make use of existing photographs.

While a bridge is often an impressive sight, some human interest and a sense of scale can be added if a boat, vehicle or person should pass, or be posed,  underneath.  

The presence of the angler at the left makes a big difference to this picture.  What if he had been on the right hand side?  Would you have reversed the image?  To make a bridge look larger and more impressive, the person or object should be further away than the bridge.  

Donning3.jpg (62172 bytes) Waterfowl may also form a foil to the severity of the structure.  As shown above, angler using the shade or shelter of the bridge can also help. In fact, some fish may also choose the vicinity of a bridge, which is why the angler was there.

Donning3R.jpg (37238 bytes)In this version of the same picture the swans have been turned around.  Does it make any difference?  Some of the pictures of bridges in this web-site have been given small adjustments, such as removing unsightly bits of paper and plants, and occasional lamp-posts, in order to present the bridges at their best.

Donning3R2.jpg (37263 bytes)This is a third attempt with the same image.  The images of the two swans have been moved.  Is this any better?  A couple of lamp-posts have been removed from these images to clean them up.

Films

The type of film may be influential when creating pictures for a web-site.  The earlier pictures in this web-site were made using transparency film, mainly Fuji Sensia RA 135 100 ISO, which seems to produce natural colours with good resolution: it is an excellent film type.  A few older pictures were made using Kodachrome II or Kodachrome X.

ArchLune3A.jpg (39432 bytes)This image has far too much contrast, even though the scanner was adjusted to reduce it.  Contrast reduction can only go as far as the shadow tones allow.  The transparency should have had more exposure.  Bracketing might have helped.  The rower gives a good idea of the scale.  If you want to emphasise the size of a bridge, try to expose when the boat is a little further away than the bridge, but not so far as to give the game away. 

Later pictures were made with Fuji Reala Superia CS 135 100 ISO negative film.  Contrast can be a problem with pictures of bridges, when there are deep shadows.  A great many pictures have also been made with Jessops 100 ISO and 200 ISO negative film.

Details

Details can often make attractive and interesting pictures, and a photograph of any labels or plaques can help you tell your story . Lighting is as important for plaques as for bridges.  Some plaques are too high to allow the camera to be held horizontally.  The image of the plaque will then be distorted.  Moving back and using a long focal length will reduce the distortion.  Another possibility is to fit a very lens with short focal length and move closer.  By placing the image of the plaque at the top of the picture it may be possible to get a good result.  In all cases the vital point is to make the plane of the film exactly parallel to the plane of the plaque, to avoid trapezium distortion.  If you do find that you didn't quite get it right, cropping the picture to remove the edges of the plaque may make the effect less obvious.  You may be able to use software to make a correction if you are digitizing the pictures.

Camera Type

The type of camera is not very important for a web-site, as long as the resolution of the film and the lenses is adequate.  With an SLR type of camera, the vibration caused by the mirror may be a nuisance.  Many of the bridge pictures in this site were made using Pentax M42 Super Takumar or SMC lenses, mounted on a Spotmatic F body (negatives) or a Canon EOS 1000FN (slides).  Some were made using a Yashica 124G, which has no mirror movement to add to camera shake.  There is little advantage in using a zoom lens, because the bridges are not likely to collapse while you change lenses.  On the other hand, lighting may change rapidly, and boats, birds or people in your composition may move quickly.  It may then be desirable to be able to compose and shoot quickly.

Other Notes

Whatever you do will not be improved by camera shake.  A tripod, monopod, clamp, or bean-bag can be used.  If none of these are available, bracing the camera against a fence or a wall may be tried.  With wide angle lenses, this problem may be less acute.

Many bridges make attractive subjects, and it isn't difficult to get a reasonable picture, except when there isn't a suitable view-point.  In those cases a wide-angle lens might be needed, but care is needed to avoided distorting the proportions of the subject.  Ideally a picture should from a distance from which it fills exactly the same viewing angle as the original subject.  Then the image looks like the subject.  This would be difficult with an extreme wide-angle lens, and it would render telephoto lenses rather pointless.

One advantage of a wide-angle lens is the ability to move in closer, thus increasing the chance of eliminating unwanted objects, such as street furniture or trees.  Such a lens can be used to emphasise the size of the bridge if there is a person in the background.

It is important to avoid sloping horizons or water levels, and equally important to avoid converging or diverging verticals, unless they are deliberately used.  With a wide-angle lens it is important to get the verticals right at the expense of composition, at least in cases where cropping can produce the required image.  With a sharp lens, a fine-grain film, and a tripod, a good result can be obtained from a surprisingly small part of the frame, especially if the final image is not going to be very big.

Lighting is very important, and studying a large-scale map may help in choosing the best time of day and time of year for a given bridge.  A 1:50000 or 1:25000 map will show whether access is possible using a right of way.  It may also show obscuring objects such as power lines or clumps of trees.  Trees, in fact, can make it necessary to photograph in winter, when at least they have no leaves.  Lighting can obscure or illuminate the lines of the structure, depending on its direction.  Masonry, for example, can be picked out more effectively with side-light.  Strong mid-day sun may well produce deep shadows under a bridge, while morning or evening light may be softer, and more able to light up the area under the bridge.  With suitable illumination, water under a bridge can provide useful fill-in lighting of the underside.

Don't forget the foreground and background.  Look all around the viewfinder for obtrusive objects that may spoil the result if noticed later.  Traffic may be intrusive, so it may be worth waiting for a lull.  On the other hand, vehicles may provide a sense of scale.  You then have to decide whether you want their motion to be apparent in the blur of the image.  If you will be scanning the final picture, you can sometimes remove unwanted parts of the image by editing.  Make sure that the camera is exactly horizontal - you do not want sloping horizons or converging verticals, unless you are aiming for a deliberate special effect. Always bear in mind that the picture may be cropped, so there is no necessity to fill the frame in all directions.  

With a camera, for example an APS type,  that can produce different formats, there is much scope for composition.  A 6 X 6 cm camera also offers great scope.  A 50 X 35 mm strip from a 6 X 6 negative or slide can be put it a 35 mm scanner and scanned in two parts.  The two images can be joined to make a panoramic view.  If the settings of the scanner are unchanged between the scans (don't do a pre-scan for the second part) the result can be very good.  This was done in a number of cases in order to make use of existing photographs.

While a bridge is often an impressive sight, some human interest and a sense of scale can be added if a boat, vehicle or person should pass, or be posed,  underneath.  To make a bridge look larger and more impressive, the person or object should be further away than the bridge.  Waterfowl may also form a foil to the severity of the structure.  An angler using the shade or shelter of the bridge can also help. In fact. some fish may also choose the vicinity of a bridge.

The type of film may be influential when creating pictures for a web-site.  The earlier pictures in this web-site were made using transparency film, mainly Fuji Sensia RA 135 100 ISO, which seems to produce fairly natural colours with god resolution.  When the scenes had much contrast, there was difficulty in making good scans.  Later pictures were made with Fuji Reala Superia CS 135 100 ISO negative film, and it was found that contrast was more manageable.  Contrast can be a problem with pictures of bridges, when there are deep shadows.  A number of pictures have also been made with Jessops 100 ISO and 200 ISO negative film.

The type of camera is not very important for a web-site, as long as the resolution of the film and the lenses is adequate.  With an SLR type of camera, the vibration caused by the mirror may be a nuisance.  Many of the bridge pictures in this site were made using Pentax M42 Super Takumar or SMC lenses, mounted on a Spotmatic body (negatives), a Canon EOS 1000FN (slides) or a Canon EOS 300D (digital).  There is little advantage in using a zoom lens, because the bridges are not likely to collapse while you change lenses.  On the other hand, lighting may change rapidly, and boats, birds or people in your composition may move quickly.  It may then be desirable to be able to compose and shoot quickly.

Whatever you do will not be improved by camera shake.  A tripod, monopod, clamp, or bean-bag should be used.  If none of these are available, bracing the camera against a fence or a wall may be tried.  With wide angle lenses, this problem may be less acute.  If you are going to use the pictures only in a web-site, a faster film may give adequate resolution and reduce the effects of camera shake.  If you are actually on a bridge, its vibrations may be strong enough to affect your pictures.  In that case you need to watch the traffic and make use of gaps between vehicles.

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