A few days before my birthday, I received a marketing email from one of the few companies I actually don’t mind receiving such emails from. Skimming the email from CameraPro (excellent photography shop in Brisbane), four words, or more accurately, one word and one phrase caught my eye. “Photography” and “Story Bridge climb”.
The Story Bridge is one of Brisbane’s two most iconic bridges (the other being the Gateway), and like the Sydney Harbour Bridge they now run walking tours up and over the bridge. Usually these tours don’t allow people to carry cameras for safety and financial reasons (the guides take photos you can buy), but the Story Bridge Climb company in conjunction with CameraPro have been able to get around both issues and now run a photography tour. When I first saw the email I thought it was a one off, it was pricey but it was near my birthday, and how many chances would I get? Turns out probably quite a few if I kept my eye out (I think they run once a month), but sometimes you need a sense of urgency to actually do the cool stuff in your local town. So I signed up.
The tour is unique. Usually several groups are on the bridge at any one time, but the photography tour is on its own. The group is kept small, no more than six people, the tour is longer at over three hours, and it’s run at twilight so you get the best light, then the city and bridge at night. It’s definitely a rare experience.
The tour guide (who’s name, to my shame and annoyance, I’ve forgotten) ran through the expected safety procedures, and how we’d be rigged up. He then gave us some valuable hints and tips to photograph the bridge, accompanied with a slideshow of his own photos. His photos were great and set a high standard I hoped to be able to approach. His challenge to us was to take different photos from the usual; he’d seen thousands of bridge photos and they were “all the same”.
We rigged up in our climb suits and tethered our cameras, and looking like a line of blue telly-tubbies we trundled out under the bridge.
The Story Bridge opened in 1940, and hasn’t changed much in that time. It was still bright sunlight, so girders were the order of the hour. I spotted a sinking moon lit by the sun from under the bridge. With the different photo challenge in mind, I figured this might be a good start.
We proceeded under the bridge, through the bridge, up the bridge, across the bridge, and down the other side, in the space of over three hours and covering 1176 steps. It didn’t feel much like exercise at the time, but wow did my muscles feel it afterwards. On the way I tried to find a few different angles than just more girders (although I must admit really liked the girders).
The sun set while we were in the middle of the climb and the bridge. Not a spectacular sunset, quite clear skies, but some nice colours around. As the light faded I started playing more with long exposures, and discovered for myself just how much a bridge moves. The tour guide had warned us of this, and gave us a couple of techniques to try and combat it:
- Cushion your camera on your elbow folded over a railing
- Watch the traffic and time your image so you don’t need to open the shutter for too long. The traffic is controlled at either end by lights, and there are plenty of times when the bridge is empty. To capture light trails it helped to time your capture with the timing of the lights.
The tour guide had some spectacular images with light trails, some taken with 30-40 seconds exposure. I couldn’t even come close to this and still end up with an image vaguely in focus. His hours of experience and steadier hand made an immense difference.
I also tried for a panorama of the CBD glinting in the day’s final sunlight. It’s far from tack sharp if you take a closer look, but I like it anyway.
I came away from the photography climb actually feeling a bit disappointed with myself – I didn’t feel I’d taken anything I was happy with or near the standard of the tour guide’s, all I had instead was a deep appreciation of the hours of patience and practice he must have put in to learn the bridge’s foibles and work with them. Still, as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve become a bit addicted to post-processing in the last year or so. Post-processing really came into its own here, and when it came to processing I had a lot of fun playing with what would otherwise be very similar photos of girders and lights. Contrasty monochromes were an obvious start, although after a while I got bored of that and tried for dreamy girders instead.
In the end I’m glad I did the tour, the photos don’t do the experience of being up there with the changing light justice. I might even do it again some day.