Setting the Scene – A mission for Alfalfa
This photo was not intended, nor was the detour I took to get it. Sometimes you can create amazing photos from unexpected situations like this. If ever you are taking a road trip or have an errand to run – take your camera with you! You never know when you may stumble on a picture-perfect scene, or something you simply have to take a photo of.
To give a little background info – I was intending to pick up some Alfalfa feed for my horses from a site in Kentucky. I decided to take my Nikon D850 with me – just-in-case. The area is well-known to me and I am always on the lookout for new photo opportunities.
As the afternoon wore on, I decided to head across the state border and try my luck of some sunset shots of the iconic George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge. This bridge was built in 1929 and it remains one of the best-known structures in the area. Locals call it the Second Street Bridge, and it spans the Ohio River which also forms a natural border between Kentucky and Indiana.
On the Indiana side of the bridge, there are some grassy banks and a car park off of West Riverside Drive. This is the perfect spot for taking photos of the bridge, whilst still getting the Louisville skyline framed in the background.
Creating the Composition – Finding the right position
For this composition, several key elements fitted into place. Firstly, the positioning of the sun. From the Indiana side of the river, the sun sets on the opposite bank and thus makes it the best side for sunset shots.
Secondly, from the Indiana banks, you can see the developing skyline of Louisville. In contrast, if you were to take photos from the Kentucky side, at the Great Lawn, for example, the Indiana banks aren’t as developed and the composition would be less striking.
Thirdly, the relatively low-down positioning where I stood enabled me to show the bridge in all it's majesty. From this position, you can gain a sense of the scale of the bridge as it stretches across the river. You can also gain some sense of just how wide and powerful the Ohio River is.
I love how the bridge stretches from right to left across the photo. It creates a prominent leading line that immediately draws your attention. Also, the bridge cuts through the photo and provides a great balance between the bright and bold colors of the sky, and the darker light of the foreground.
Using a 5-shot bracket exposure to great effect
You may wonder how I managed to get such even lighting across this photo. It was a tricky scene to photograph, and as you can imagine, the lighting conditions were varied. Depending on where I focused, the exposure balance was uneven.
For example, when focusing on the sky, the bridge and foreground would become under-exposed. In contrast, if I focused on the foreground, the gorgeous colors in the sky would be muted and the sunset effect would be lessened.
As a result, I decided to use a bracketed exposure composition and combine the different exposures to create an HDR photo. Bracketed shots are fantastic to use when you have difficult lighting conditions like this.
You can expose for various parts of the photo and combine them using post-processing software. This means that you can create a balance end photo, with all areas of the shot exposed correctly. Many cameras like the Nikon D850 have built-in bracketed shooting modes that automate the process – you simply define the min and max exposures and let the camera do the work!
What Makes This Photo Stand Out?
There are so many elements to this photo that make it such a striking shot. Most obviously we have the gorgeous colors of the sunset. Some of the best landscape photos you can take are at specific periods in the day that have different lighting conditions.
This shot was taken during sunset, but there are other periods such as sunrise, the blue hour, and the golden hour, for example. During these times, the position of the sun creates fantastic lighting in both the sky, but also your background and foreground subjects. For this photo, the sunset lights up the sky, but also creates a beautiful reflection on the waters of the Ohio River.
Aside from the colors, the positioning of the bridge and the use of multiple exposures combined together also add to the depth of this photo. For me, it's a beautiful shot that shows the immensity of the Ohio River, and how we have conquered it via the expanse of the George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge.