As the rivers begin to thaw, photographers across Minnesota will jump at the chance to shoot some of the state’s incredible bridges and the currents coursing beneath them.
After taking photographs of just about every major bridge in the Twin Cities, Bill Donovan of Eagan is sure to be among them. In photography circles, Donovan is known as “the bridge whisperer.” He spends his free time scanning the architectural details of these feats of engineering to find a unique perspective.
“In general, my favorite form of photography is architecture,” says Donovan. “To me, there’s a lot of beauty in the details of manmade structures. Somebody had a vision, and they put that vision into pipes and steel, and made it a reality.”
Although bridges make an easy subject for photography, Donovan says the challenge is coming up with unique angles and photographic treatments that haven’t already been done. His favorite subject is the Wabasha Bridge in St. Paul, but he has also shot the Lowry Bridge, the Mendota Bridge, the Stone Arch Bridge, and the Third Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis, to name a few.
“The question I always ask myself is, ‘How can I take a picture that’s never been seen before?’”
When he started shooting photos three years ago, Donovan was mainly interested in High Dynamic Range, or HDR photography. He would usually take three exposures, combining them to get the best lighting of an architectural shot.
“In HDR, the shadows are strong and the highlights are strong,” he says. “That gives the picture tremendous depth.”
Donovan has since moved away from HDR, but he still captures the lesser seen side of bridges in stunning detail. Matt Silverness, a photographer in Duluth, has altogether different bridges to choose from. He has been shooting since he was 16, and this year, about 15 years later, he had a photo go viral on Facebook.
“What’s cool about being in Duluth is that you’ve got all these bridges that make for a good subject and a solid foreground in an image. Sometimes I’ll just look at the engineering and admire how the bridge is constructed.”
The Aerial Lift Bridge, the John A. Blatnik Bridge, and the Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge all make great subjects.
Silverness shoots with a smaller aperture, allowing a smaller amount of light to enter the camera. Often, he uses a neutral density filter to soften the light, and he focuses on getting depth of field in an image. But he says long-exposure photography is what drew him into photography.
“I really fell in love with being able to make a stream look like it’s flowing in an image instead of standing still. When I take a photo, I like to look at something and compose it to mirror how you feel in the scene.”
Silverness accomplished this transporting effect in a big way with a photo he took earlier this year. On January 11, he looked at the weather forecast in Duluth, and seeing the potential for stunning atmospheric conditions, he went out to photograph the Aerial Lift Bridge on the spur of the moment.
“What the bridge brings to this shot is perspective. Having the Aerial Lift Bridge in the photo gives you the perspective of how crazy it felt to be there. That was insane! It was almost unbelievable.”
As with any photo, Silverness says a good bridge shot often comes down to being in the right place at the right time. He has captured extraordinarily calm water in the bay near Duluth, when Lake Superior was still enough to create perfect reflections. He once stood on a gigantic snow bank to get the angle he wanted.
The other aspect he enjoys about photography is the quality of natural light.
“I have an addiction to sunrises and sunsets,” says Silverness. “It’s a passion. I love really being able to capture nature’s beauty, and being able to put something on paper that I saw with my own eyes.”