Bridges & Crossings

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Firstly congratulations to Su Bayfield for winning November’s “A Shot Indoors” competition. Don’t forget this month’s ‘Bridges & Crossings’ Challenge winner will be announced at the start of January, so make sure you submit your entry before the closing date of 2nd January to be in with a chance of winning!

Welcome to our regular Expert Advice feature – which this month is by resident photographer Phil Surbey.

For this month’s Photo Challenge competition, I want you to get outdoors and brave the wintry weather in order to shoot a rather specific subject. We have had quite a few loose, broad categories this year, so I though it was time for a more set theme to see what you make of that. So, I want you all to take stunning pictures specifically of bridges and other sorts of crossings.

For my selection of images to illustrate this month’s article, I intentionally chose to shoot bridges that are in the Home Counties where I live and work – Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. I didn’t want to give myself an unfair advantage by going into London and shooting Tower Bridge at night! Not that you shouldn’t do just that, if you think you can create something exciting out of that much-loved – and much-photographed – historical landmark.

A bridge in itself can be a thing of beauty – any and all bridges and crossings, I say. Railway bridges, aqueducts, road crossings; there is something appealing in the shape of a span. It’s down to you to chose your bridge and then how best to shoot it – the angle, the composition in general, the time of day and so on. There is an age-old theory that by placing restrictions on artistic people, for example the strict five-, seven-, five-syllable form of a traditional Japanese haiku poem, you evoke the utmost creativity in them. Let’s put that to the test!

I am hoping as many of you as possible will pick a crossing or bridge which you find appealing and have a go at shooting it to its greatest advantage, then send in your best shot – for the chance to win a great prize, of course. What I really want you to do for this Photo Challenge is to ‘think like a professional photographer’. Never forget: there’s much more to capturing an image than just pointing your LUMIX at the subject…

For your shots to work, your composition needs to draw the viewer into the scene. Having a great subject – from a beautifully ornate Victorian red-brick bridge to the most architecturally daring modern span – doesn’t mean you’re going to get a great shot. Indeed, I have seen some pretty awful photographs of what should have been marvellous subjects – and equally, some truly stunning shots of ordinary, everyday objects.

What I want you to do is approach the subject as I would:

1) Pre-visualise your shot; see it in your head before you even get your camera out of its bag.

2) Compose it well. Think about your camera angle, the height of your vantage point, which lenses to use… but always try to keep it essentially simple, remembering that ‘less is more’.

3) When you are at actually at your chosen location, always experiment with alternative views and different times of day – or even different days altogether.

4) And finally, take lots and lots of shots – this is digital photography and you have that huge advantage of the modern age! Then, spend all the time you need selecting your best image later on.

None of my shots has had any major image manipulation. They were all taken as single exposures, shot with my LUMIX in Raw and then post-processed on my computer using Photoshop.

Shots 01, 02 & 03: Great Barford Bridge, Beds

I first visited this location on the River Ouse on a rainy day. I happily pre-visualised my shot, but decided to come back on a day with (hopefully) better weather. When I returned, the sky was very bland but I decided to shoot the bridge anyway. It became immediately apparent that I needed to wait and keep my fingers crossed the sky would become more interesting, though. Sure enough, after a couple of hours it changed dramatically and I got shots 02 & 03, which I really like.

I used a G2 graduated filter over my lens to darken the sky on the day, then further darkened it and warmed up the colour in post processing. As the bridge dates back to the early 15th century, I decided to add some distress and ageing in post as well, to shot 01 only. I think the result is pretty good. The two cyclist figures crossing the bridge could perhaps be from the original period!

Lumix Bridges01

Lumix Bridges02

Lumix Bridges03

Shots 04, 05 & 06: The River Ouse, Beds

All these shots were taken over a two-hour session walking along the riverbank on that same day, waiting for the sky to change sufficiently. Again, it is composition and camera viewpoint that proved critical – plus, waiting for the right moment of course. For example, when the lone rower was passing under the bridge.

Lumix Bridges04

Lumix Bridges05

Lumix Bridges06

Shots 07 & 08: Stevenage New Town, Herts

A raised road/flyover plus an elevated walkway shot is, in an abstract manner, another way of looking at our theme of crossings. I deliberately exposed for the sky on these shots. They were taken using the 45-200mm lens at approx. the 200mm setting, in order to minimise any perspective and therefore keep things simple.

Lumix Bridges07

Lumix Bridges08

Shots 09 & 10: The Viaduct, Welwyn Garden City, Herts

Just to illustrate two ways of seeing the same scene, here are a couple of treatments of the Welwyn or Digswell Viaduct: in my old favourite black-and-white, and in high-contrast colour – both enhanced in post-processing. Being 30 metres high and 475 metres long, this heirloom of the Victorian railway system was bound to look impressive from almost any angle – but that’s not the point, obviously! The trick is to find the very best composition, angle and light conditions for the perfect shot.

Lumix Bridges09

Lumix Bridges10

So, please do get out there with your camera and shoot something wonderful – but try to have a clear idea of your shot and location before setting out. I strongly suggest you don’t just rely on finding a bridge by luck and shooting in whatever conditions you find yourself! I believe that what makes a truly great image is ‘the photographer’s eye seeing the shot in his or her mind’s eye’.

Don’t forget you still have time to enter Novembers Photo Challenge and as always, I look forward very much to seeing what you come up with and I wish you happy shooting. Until next time, friends!

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