One of the greatest challenges for a landscape photographer is trying to figure out exactly how to shoot a given subject. Even when it seems obvious. Rarely can we walk up to a scene, drop our tripod, hit the shutter, then pack up and leave. The best shots usually require a little more work, and a lot more creativity.
I found myself over on the South Carolina Coast with some time in front of one our state’s most iconic sites: the Arthur Ravenel Bridge, which spans the Cooper River along the Charleston Peninsula. There is no shortage of imagery of this bridge. It has become the de facto logo for Charleston and it’s likeness is everywhere. Aside from graphic representations, photographers have shot it, and it’s beautiful lines, from every conceivable angle.
Although I have driven over the bridge a few times, this was my first opportunity to spend time there with my camera in my hand. Since I was getting there just before sunset, I opted for a view that would put the setting sun just behind the bridge, hoping for a colorful sky as the sun dipped out of sight. It had been a rainy day and there were a significant number of clouds, so I was hopeful.
As it turned out, however, there was no real color to speak of. The sun never quite peeked out from behind those scattered layers of clouds, other than to fill the horizon with such a brightness that the bridge could only really be seen in silhouette. So I did my best to work with what I was given. I opted for a longer shutter speed to smooth out the water and to blur the clouds a bit. In processing the image, I determine that color really added nothing to it, so I stripped it back to black and white.
- Nikon D7100
- Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX-II 11-16mm f/2.8
- 70 seconds at f/16
- ISO 100
The next morning, at dawn, I was back out again. This time my perspective was different. I was hoping for a pre-sunrise shot with the bridge illuminated, but there were no lights on the bridge that morning. So then I waited for gleaming sun off of the front of the bridge with orange and magenta clouds hovering nearby. Again, the weather didn’t quite cooperate. So I was back to that longer shutter, this time allowing the early morning color to fully saturate the image.
- Nikon D7100
- AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR
- 60 seconds at f/16
- ISO 100
Challenges and things to continue working on: There were a number of challenges here. Limited vantage points created compositional problems. I need to work harder at creating sharper images in this circumstances. Early on, I noticed that I had not even focused the camera correctly! One would think that with such a stationary image there would be plenty of time to relax, think through the process and not overlook any detail. However, knowing the light was changing very quickly, and that the rains were about to pour down, I still felt rushed.
The Takeaway: The biggest lesson I learned that night was to stay longer. The sun seemed to have disappeared that first evening. It was dark. The image above was a 70 second exposure, so you know there wasn’t very much light. But after taking my last shot, putting my camera away and breaking down my tripod, those clouds opened up, unloading torrential rains. I was heading (running, to get out of the rain) back to my car with two other photographers. As we reached a point of relative shelter under the bridge, another photographer told us to turn around. The light was stunning! A strange mist had formed before the setting sun, which was now completely visible between a the separating clouds, creating an eerie light pattern and some amazing reflections in the water. And then, just that fast, it was gone!
Next time, I’ll pull my hat down a bit tighter, protect my camera the best I can, and wait until every ounce of light has been squeezed from the sky!