This is a short blog about photographing Oregon’s Covered Bridges. A couple of weeks ago, Mary and I drove from Bandon up to the Willamette Valley. Because of time constraints and our driving route to end up in Dundee, we photographed four covered bridges just east of Albany. Here are my notes and suggestions for photographing them.
There are over 50 covered bridges in Oregon, all of them south of Portland. Because of Oregon’s unique geography with the Cascade Mountain range in the eastern portion of the state and the Pacific Ocean to the west, most water runs east to west along hundreds of rivers, thousands of streams, and of course, the mighty Columbia. Because of this topography, the roads in Oregon continually criss-cross these bodies of water. In the heyday of the 1930’s, there were almost 300 covered bridges.
We photographed the Larwood Bridge, the Hannah Bridge, the Gilkey Bridge, and the Shimanek Bridge. The most obvious shot is always the straight on face shot. More of a documentation shot, than anything else, it is the first composition that comes to mind. The bridges also have small fences (guard rails) that you can use as leading lines and the ever-present center yellow road line.
As with any subject, after you take the obvious shot, it is time to move around to see other compositions. Get high; get low; create angles; make detailed shots inside the bridge structure; look for interesting foreground and background subjects. Two funny things happened to us while we were out.
At the Hannah bridge, which is white with some interesting yellow flowers around it, I said to Mary as we ate a snack, “it would be so cool to have a yellow school bus come through the bridge” and then two buses did just that, while we did not have our cameras ready. We chalked it up to a weird serendipity and continued eating. A few minutes later, one bus came back the other way. I looked at Mary and said, “you know the other one will be coming back, too.” She dropped her snack, grabbed her camera, and got ready for a hand-held shot. It is not as good as seeing a school bus coming though the bridge, but nice nonetheless.
The other funny thing, and a timeless lesson, happened at the red Shimanek bridge. We had a few good images after working it for over 30 minutes, but it was a really bright day and I can’t say any were great. As we walked back to the car, I turned around and saw the composition with the tall green grass foreground and was blown away. I can’t believe we missed this shot walking to the bridge and we almost missed it leaving because we did not work the subject as best as we could. After seeing this composition, we stayed another half hour or so, working different angles and using Mary’s infrared camera.
We ended our forray with the “dirty” white Gilkey Bridge. We had a really hard time getting a nice composition until we walked onto a nearby railroad bridge just across from the Gilkey. Again, it was tough shooting conditions with a gray sky, but moving around the subject gave us something pretty good.
I guess my only key advice is to photograph the bridges with Fall color. Any really good image of these bridges that I have seen have trees with color. Second, with the red Shimanek Bridge being somewhat of a destination bridge, photographing it at sunrise or sunset would have provided extra drama in the sky and much better light, it just did not fit into our schedule.
For further information, we really like Photographing Oregon by Greg Vaughn, Bob Hitchman’s Photograph America Newsletter about the Oregon Back Roads, and the Oregon Department of Transportation Covered Bridge Guide. Next blog – old barns we saw in Oregon. To see our “best of” Oregon photographs, please go to www.pamphotography.com.