The last time I photographed the Coronado Bridge I chose to do so from a nearby beach where I could use boats used to access the ships moored out on the bay as foreground objects. Although the light was nice and the composition pleasing, what I realized when viewing the photos at home on a large monitor was that I did not adequately capture the uniqueness of the Coronado bridge. The bridge as I captured it looked like any other bridge and appears to be a pedestrian connection between two land masses when in fact the bridge makes a sweeping right turn going into Coronado from San Diego. It was this striking feature that I wanted to capture with this photo.
How to get this type of shot
The shot was more difficult to get than I initially though when I had planned and conceived it in my mind. The problem was that there is a 8-foot fence on both sides of the path immediately surrounding the underpass of the bridge. This meant getting a clean composition without the barb wired and chain linked fence was going to be a challenge. Luckily, there is an embankment with a concrete structure right under the bridge. It was a little tricky positioning my tripod in a stable position on the embankment, but it allowed me to shoot over the fence (just barely) and get the composition I wanted.
The night was clear without any clouds which I preferred since I wanted to emphasize only the form and textures of the bridge itself. Dramatic clouds, although pleasing, would have distracted from this goal. The smooth sky in the upper left of the image, I feel, contrasts well with the strong lines of the bridge.
Due to the sky being darker than some parts of the bridge (and much darker than the underside of the bridge) I had to use a 3-stop graduated ND filter. Can you guess how I placed the filter? The graduation actually runs from 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock with the graduation placed vertically in the frame. This allowed me to even out the shaded portions of the bridge from those being hit with light.
The shot was made after the lights of the bridge had turned on and had sufficient time to warm up. This occurred around 20 minutes after sunset. One thing that I did not notice at the time of shooting are the flare patterns the street lights created in the middle of the frame. Although I typically try and avoid lens flare in my images, the pattern created in this case was pleasing and I feel adds to the overall photo.
I used an aperture of f/11 since the first bridge pylon was a good 50 feet or so away. The bridge spans around a mile and this f-stop gave me plenty of depth-of-field. The resulting shutter speed was 30 seconds and this was enough to help smooth out the water in the bay, again helping to focus on only the strong lines and textures of the bridge.