This image was taken in the early evening during May, when the golden light of sunset in the West was slanting to a low angle. The colour and quality of the light was arresting, as it seemed to enhance the age and mystery of this bridge, which witnessed the birth pangs of the Revolution during its own construction.
A Bridge Over Troubled Waters?
Spanning the right and left banks of the Seine, the bridge today links the Place de la Concorde with the French parliament, the Assemblée Nationale. Given the bloody history of Concorde, site of the guillotine which sent so many to their Maker, it provides a salutary reminder to the legislators of what awaits them if the population tires of its political masters and crosses the river to lay siege to the Parliament.
Planned by the architect of the reigning monarch Louis XVI, the bridge was started before the French Revolution in 1787, but was only completed during the revolution in 1791. In fact, as construction progressed, the builders were able to use a significant amount of masonry taken from the Bastille prison fortress, demolished in 1789. A final rebuild took place in 1930, when it was widened.
The History Of Names
It has changed names frequently, like the Place de la Concorde, which was originally Place Louis XV before changing to Place de la Révolution, back to Place Louis XV, then Place Louis XVI, before finally settling down again with its current moniker in 1830.
The bridge has also changed names 5 times, although it has only had three names. It started off in life as the Pont Louis XVI, became the Pont de la Révolution in 1792, Pont de la Concorde around 1796 and Pont Louis XVI again during the Bourbon Restoration of 1814. In 1830, it once again became Pont de la Concorde following the July Revolution that replaced the Bourbon Restoration with the Orléanist monarchy.
For me, this is the key factor with which I struggle, in order to capture all the subtlety of light in the somber scenes, which frequently attract my attention. I have written earlier about the photographer’s frustration with the fact that a camera, however technically excellent, cannot hope to match the subtlety of the human eye in capturing the range of brightness in a scene.
Photographing the underside of a low bridge, while strong direct sunlight is illuminating the pillars and reflecting on the water is therefore fraught with difficulty. This is most evident in the light playing on the pillars in the middle of the river, where the brightest sections are verging on being “burnt out”, therefore swamping the camera’s sensor with so much light that it ceases to deliver useful data.
This could be compensated by settings which matched the high level of light, but which would, on the other hand, negatively handle the darker areas of the image, which represent the bulk of the scene. This calls for a set of compromise choices, as well as bracketing the central image with “lighter” and “darker captures. The principal choice was to experiment with the exposure compensation settings, which I finally fixed at -1.3 EV, which is relatively severe. Also I chose to use spot metering to refine the camera’s exposure assessment of the bright spot, rather than the more usual Matrix metering, which provides a balanced exposure based on the whole image.
Camera: Nikon D800
Lens: 60mm f2.8G Prime
Focus Mode: AF-C
Autofocus Area Mode: Single
Shutter Speed: 1/160s
Exposure Mode: Aperture Priority
Exposure Compensation: -1.3 EV
ISO Sensitivity: 640
Bracketing: Multiple captures
Mounted on Monopod
The light and its effect on the structure touched my sense of history, as I lived the moment, but I only learned of the whole history of the bridge, particularly its inclusion of the masonry of the Bastille, when I researched this blog post. I hope that it has something of the same effect on you.
Why not take a little tour around the rest of my site to see what other emotional responses I have tried to evoke with my camera?
Copyright Paul Grayson 2015