Night Light of the North Coast: The Covered Bridges of Elk River

Written by David Wilson

Humboldt County is home to a number of noteworthy bridges, two of which are wooden covered bridges built in the 1930’s. Both of them are still in service out Elk River Road, and I’ve thought for a while that catching an unusual view of them beneath the stars would be interesting. Earlier this year I visited the pair, hoping to find views of them that would include the Milky Way flying over them. Yes, you know I love to include it over my landscapes. Its structure is the most visible reminder of the vastness of the cosmic space in which we drift, and it comforts me to know that we are really too tiny down here for our problems to matter much in the true scope of things.

Berta’s Ranch Covered Bridge is a couple miles out Elk River Road on Berta Road.

In order to let in enough light to make a reasonably bright image in my nighttime photography, I have used longer exposure times than daylight photography requires. At night I often shoot with a 30-second shutter speed. Thirty seconds is no magic number; there are other shutter speeds that would work for the sky if I were to set the aperture or ISO differently, but it does give me a little time to creatively add my own light to the foreground, which is the most challenging aspect. I don’t have a crew or banks of lights. When I add my own light, I have to paint my scenes in manually, often with my flashlight’s beam passing over as much of the scene as I can during the half-minute that the shutter is open. It’s not always enough time to illuminate everything, and often the first attempts don’t work out.

Also off of Elk River Road, Zanes Road covered bridge is another half-mile or so past Berta Road. The red light at the end of the tunnel is me holding my headlamp.

It’s quiet out Elk River on a week night. I photographed both of these bridges at about 10:30 p.m., just a few days apart in July 2018. Only a couple cars passed by either night, and I was probably photographing for about an hour both times. Humboldt has a third covered bridge, built in the 1960’s out past Jacoby Creek, but I have yet to work out an angle for that one that could also feature the Milky Way.

To see previous entries of “Night Light of the North Coast,” click on my name above the article. If you’d like to keep abreast of my most current photography or peer into its past, you can follow me on Instagram at @david_wilson_mfx . I update my website mindscapefx.com less frequently, but you can contact me there.

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