I felt like a criminal. Certainly what I was planning to do was probably illegal, if only in a minor way. However, I knew what I wanted, and knew I only had a small window of opportunity to get it. While the end result wasn’t as perfect as I might have hoped the adventure was certainly worth it.
My route to work takes me down I-358 to I-85. These crisp autumn mornings I’ve been noticing how much the sky looks like the new South Carolina license plates. I think the silhouetted crescent and palm were probably meant to show the evening sky, but it was my morning commute that really brought out the similarity. I decided to combine this scene with another subject that had caught my eye, and try to capture the perfect photo.
At the interchange of I-385 and I-85 I cross over a bridge with a perfect view of the main interstate and the spur. On the bridge one can see the vehicles on I-85 below and traffic on the main part of I-385 crossing above. I’ve always thought that the intersection of so many traffic light trails would make a great photo but I wasn’t sure how to go about it.
There is a wooded area with a dirt maintenance road in the middle of the interchange. I thought that might be a good place to pull off and walk up to the overpass with my tripod. However, the more I thought about it, the sight of a guy with a tripod aiming something at the highway below might cause some alarm. I guess I had read too many stories of paranoia about photography and harassment of photographers. I rejected that idea, even though it would have provided the best results.
Fortunately, there is a wide shoulder on the left side of the highway. A plan began to form. I could pull over to the side, roll down the window, take a quick shot, and be on my way before I got into trouble. So, I began to reconnoiter. The next morning on my way to work I checked to make sure that the bridge’s sides were low enough to get the shot I wanted. They were. So far so good.
Again, my own fear of arrest or of being accosted kicked in, so the next morning I checked for any other potential problems. Across from that location is a traffic webcam. I wasn’t sure if it would pick up my semi-illegal activity or not. I was able to find the webcam in Google Earth and check to make sure that it wasn’t showing that particular stretch of highway. Unless a passing patrol came by, I would be safe from observation (except, of course, by other passing vehicles.)
I was on a bit of a time crunch to get my shot. There is about a 10 minute window when the lighting is just perfect – dark enough to product the traffic light trails, but with the coloration from the license plate that I also wanted to catch. With the end of Daylight Savings Time this weekend, I had to it this week, or wait until next year for my chance.
Thursday morning I started my preparations prior to leaving home. A tripod was out of the question, so I mounted my camera on my monopod and hoped to brace it against the window. I planned to take a wide angle shot with a narrow aperture so that the lights and details would be crisper. I set the camera to 200 ISO to reduce noise, knowing that the combination would mean a long exposure. I figured I could handle it.
As I approached my target, I rolled down the window and drew the camera near. No one behind me, which was good. I pulled off to the side, braced the camera, and took the shot. As I had suspected, it was a long exposure – nearly 10 seconds. While I was able adequately brace the camera. I hadn’t counted on the car being buffeted by the wind from passing vehicles, even in that short amount of time. With the car shaking, there was no way to reduce camera shake. I took my one shot and drove on. Here is that first attempt:
So we come to this morning. My plan was to reduce the amount of exposure time to mitigate the camera shake. I opened the aperture a bit, set the ISO to 800, and set the exposure to 2″. As before, I had everything ready ahead of time. Unfortunately, there was more traffic this morning. I managed to get pulled off to the side, and even took the time to take a couple of shots, but I had the same result as before. The passing cars just generate too much vibration for a good shot.
Oh well, after all that planning, I still didn’t get the shot I wanted. I guess the only way to do this is to do something truly illegal and most likely dangerous – walk out there with a tripod and shoot until I get the photograph I really want. I think I’ll just be satisfied with what I have for now.