A Highway At Night

I got the photo I wanted. But I paid the price.

I like images of urban skylines in the distance – that feeling of new possibilities, heading into the Big City to try your luck, as the sun is going down and the lights are turning on. And I like highways at night, rivers of fast-moving lights. I imagine I’m coming into a town for the first time, starting a whole new chapter. Who knows.

I found a spot in Minneapolis where I thought I could get an image like that. There’s a bridge over Interstate 94 right where it crosses the Mississippi, with traffic flowing underneath and the city skyline in the distance. I noticed it one day and stopped back a couple of times, did some test shots, thought about how to get what I wanted.

I came back one evening to actually do the shots. It’s dark out on that bridge, windy, a bit lonely… no problem, parked a couple of blocks away, went out and set up the camera. There was a lot of dynamic range, and I’d need to combine several shots to get lots of vehicle traffic. The trick was finding the right shutter speeds to get nice taillight trails. Weird clouds rolled in. I experimented for a while and took a bunch of shots.

After a lot of post-processing work – multiple layers, HDR, exposure blending, color adjustments – I felt I’d succeeded. It’s about that ceaseless flow of traffic, all those people I’ll never know, each heading somewhere different, in the dark. So many stories in one image.

Oh yeah… I started out by saying I’d “paid the price”. After getting the shots, I headed back to the car, parked on a dark street near the river, and found some dweeb had busted in my passenger side window. For all his trouble and risk, I estimate he scored 37 cents sitting in the center console. And the guy was such a total amateur that he dented the door in the process – how can you swing a hammer at a window and miss?

I had to brush glass off the driver’s seat and drive home with no window… like I said, it was chilly. And then pay for new glass. The dent, I kept: a souvenir of a photo expedition.

I really like this image. I got my money’s worth.

2 Replies to “A Highway At Night”

  1. Wow – a great image but an intriguing back story as well. I’m not sure that someone breaking into my car is a good trade for a photo, as good as this one is. There is so much to look at and think about with the image, so you definitely got a winner there!

    I do worry more these days about lonely nights with just your camera (and tripod) with you. I guess with this being the USA, you could have had body armor and a machine gun as well?

    1. Steve, Minneapolis isn’t the nice place it used to be, and you have to keep your wits about you if going out after dark. But the area around this bridge isn’t really that dodgy – my mistake was parking in a dark place, I should have been under a streetlamp. Probably just some kid looking for loose cash.

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