A View from the Bridge


imageLake Lillinonah,  Bridgewater, Connecticut © Steven Willard

It’s easy to become lackadaisical when you do the same thing every day. I have about a thirty minute commute to work and back, and although there are about five variations to my route that make sense, it still means that I drive the same roads several times a week. By now I think I could drive it blindfolded, but I still carry a camera every day, and this evening it paid off.

No matter which route I take to and from work, I eventually have to cross Lake Lillinonah which is really just a wide spot on the Housatonic River. The logical place to make the crossing is on route 133, and I always look forward to the view from the bridge. I was rewarded this particular evening with a lovely display of clouds and a soft glowing light that I felt would translate into a good panoramic photograph.

I parked at the end of the bridge and walked back to the center, foregoing the tripod as there really wasn’t a safe place to set it up on the narrow pedestrian shoulder of this two lane bridge. I set the camera exposure mode to “manual” and made some test exposures, checking the histogram to be sure I wasn’t blowing out the highlights in the clouds, but giving as much exposure as possible for the trees. Once I had the exposure set and the auto focus turned off, I braced the camera against one of the bridge members and made a series of exposures from left to right overlapping each frame about a third. I did this several times, making series of five or six shots each time. I wanted to be sure I had several series to choose from in case I wasn’t panning level or failed to get enough overlap for stitching later. It would have been much easier with a tripod and proper pano head, but it just wasn’t an option.

At home on the computer, I opened the files and selected the best series, the one where I had managed to keep the camera closest to level. I made some basic adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw and added some initial sharpening; still working in color. I had already decided to convert the image to black and white so some of my decisions were based on that. For instance, in HSL I boosted the yellow saturation slider to the right to lighten the trees. There is little else with yellow in the image so it had no discernible effect on anything but the trees and their reflections. Then I moved the blue slider to the left to darken the sky and make the clouds more prominent. The side effect was to deepen the contrast in the trees and darken the blue of the water. This all looked garish in color, but I was getting ready to convert to black and white so it didn’t matter. (In the old days of working in film I would probably have used an orange filter to accomplish something like the same result, though it wouldn’t have been as precise.)

Once in Photoshop I examined each frame and used the clone tool to remove any small distractions before engaging photo-merge to generate the panorama. After Photoshop had stitched the individual frames into a panorama, I cropped the result to get rid of any irregularities from the camera not being level for each exposure. Next I resized the image down so that the Nik software wouldn’t have to deal with such a large file, and then moved the whole thing into Nik Silver Efex Pro2 for conversion to black and white. The last step was back to Photoshop for some slight adjustments in exposure layers to add depth to the image, then output sharpening. (Since this image was processed I have acquired the rest of the Nik software suite, and I am now using Sharpener Pro, and find it much better for me.)

I should state here that I’m certain every photographer would probably take a different path if working this image, and I’m sure there are a number of you out there who are shaking your heads in fustration over my practices. What can I say? I’m self taught, but it works for me.

All these steps might sound like a lot of work, but it really isn’t. The biggest hassle is waiting while the computer crunches the numbers to implement the stitching, and the Nik software. (I keep a paperback book handy, or start a load of laundry.) Of course none of it would have mattered if I hadn’t had the camera with me in the first place. That’s the lesson here; not all the photographs that I, or anyone else makes, will be great. They may not even be very good, but they will never have a chance if you don’t have your camera with you and use it.

Pentax K10D with 35mm macro lens processed in Photoshop CS4 and converted to black and white in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.


6 comments on “A View from the Bridge

  1. Pat says:

    I liked your explanation of what you did. I have enjoyed what I can do with Lightroom – maybe it is time to get some different software. 🙂 The image turned out really nice.


  2. A gorgeous view. Painstakingly delivered too! Thank you for the insight into the steps that got you to this beautiful result. Nice to know as well that sky, clouds and still water will cooperate with our schedules from time to time.


    • Thanks for the comment. The discouraging truth is that for all the knowledge and equipment we collect, there is no substitute for being in the right place at the right time.


      • I don’t find this truth discouraging.We are always in the right place at the right time. Only a few perceptive ones (yourself included!) have the vision and motivation to see and record. Thank you again for this beautiful image.


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