Houston Highway 59 Bridges at Twilight

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Since the Highway 59 Bridge Lights were turned on earlier this year, I have wanted to photograph them. There are 5 bridges with lights on Hazard, Woodhead, Dunlavy, Mandell, and Graustark Streets, and 2 lanes across Montrose Blvd. The lighting was designed by Gandy Squared Lighting Design with over 4000 computer controlled LED lights that change colors from dusk to dawn every night. Capturing this magic was going to be fun.

I scouted various locations to shoot the bridge lights, and decided on a long exposure above Highway 59 (US 69). I went to each of the bridges to find the best point to capture the lights and traffic. Most of the views from the bridges are cluttered with large green reflective traffic signs. After visiting each bridge, I settled on the Dunlavy Street facing towards Downtown as the best option: There are 3 bridges that line up with minimal signs, and a slight curve in the freeway which would add more motion to the light trails. Also with the sunset to my back, more light falls on the bridges and the sky is a deeper blue during twilight. The other location I wanted was on Montrose Boulevard where there are two lanes on the bridge with a small median in the middle. I envisioned a one-point perspective I have had in my head ever since the lights were turned on before the Superbowl.

After I picked my locations, it was time to wait for the perfect conditions. I wanted the blue sky of twilight in the background, and wet streets and cool clouds after a storm. On July 8th, there was a thunderstorm that looked like it was supposed to clear around sunset, so I pulled my gear together and tested my setup.

I needed to be at least 7 feet above grade to get over the chain link fence, and I thought a shot at about 10-15 feet would minimize the traffic signs in the line of view and line the bridges up in an interesting manner. I have a pole attachment for my tripod which allows me to get up to 18 feet which I hoped would be perfect. When I tested the pole just prior to the shoot, the breeze caused the pole to sway. Obviously, the pole would not work for long exposures. I stuck with the 8 foot maximum height of my tripod to provide the most stable platform for my camera and still get over the chain link fence on the bridge.

This particular evening was right after a rainstorm that produced a double rainbow in the Montrose / Upper Kirby / Galleria areas. I had the wet streets I was looking for, but the clouds cleared out, and did not offer much interest in the direction of my image. The streets were still wet, and there was an occasional rain drop during my photo shoot. I started on the Dunlavy Street Bridge for my long exposures of the traffic racing down Highway 59 between Downtown Houston and the Galleria area. With the streets still wet, the reflections from the lights added color on the pavement, which otherwise would have been a dull grey. My setup for the Dunlavy Street images included my Nikon D500, 24-70mm 2.8 lens, Camranger, and my trusted RRS TV-34L tripod with center column. My exposures were at f11, ISO50, and shutter speeds ranging from 1 to 10 seconds as the evening went from sunset to dusk to night.

I was set up and ready to go at 8:15 pm, with sunset at 8:26. My first usable image was at 8:31, and the last of the images facing east on 59 was at 8:46. After that point the sky turns to black, and there is not enough fill light from the fading sun to see the surroundings. It always amazes me how fast the exposure changes at twilight. I put together a time lapse video of my shoot, and you can see it here. I attempted to keep the exposure of the bridge lights the same, so you will notice the changes in the color of the sky, the amount of light on the street lights and buildings.

After the blue of twilight faded, I headed to Montrose to capture the one-point perspective that I have had in my head ever since the lights were turned on before the Superbowl. I used my Nikon D750 and 14-24mm 2.8 lens with my tripod from a low angle. I shot from a couple of distances from the bridge on the median in the middle of Montrose looking south. I then moved to the west side of the street to capture the full moon and reflections of the bridge in a puddle. I got a little wet as the traffic passed by on my final composition, but I was able to use the trash can on the street to shield my camera from the splashes and capture my images without too many spots on my lens.

You can see my selected images from my photo shoot below. The Highway 59 Bridges #4 was recently selected as one of 70 works on display at The Silos at Sawyer Yards in the Visual Arts Alliance 12th Juried Invitational Exhibition. Catherine D. Anspon, Executive Editor of PaperCity Magazine, was the juror for the exhibition. She mentioned the image displayed a sense of optimism about our city which definitely is a reflection of how I feel about Houston. Enjoy these images and contact me if you would like to add one of them to your collection.

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