Photo and story by Jason Dozier
Midnight on a cold March evening isn't the best time to photograph downtown Minneapolis, but a last minute business call left me no choice but to pack up the van and head to the great white north, just missing a 30-plus inch snowfall.
Upon reaching town, I hurried to my pre-planned photo location. I found a free parking spot along the riverfront in the 100 block of SE Main Street. While the fresh fallen snow had been plowed from the city streets, it was piled high between the street and riverfront, where I needed to be to get an unobstructed view of the city from across the mighty Mississippi River.
Winter was indeed in full swing in the Twin Cities, and the snow was over three feet deep in spots between the sidewalk and riverfront trail. Misjudging the depth of the snow, I stepped into a snowbank just off the sidewalk and immediately fell into several feet of snow well past my knees. I pressed on, snow filling my shoes (sneakers of course) until I made it to the riverbank. From there I planted my tripod in the snow, clipped on the camera, and began shooting.
The sun had been down over three hours, so the available light would be minimal. I don't like to go over 30 second exposure, so in this situation, an ISO of 200 was necessary to give me a good exposure at f/13. Using two foreground trees to frame the shot, I was able to get enough exposure to give detail to the treebark, without blowing out the highlights of the city lights. A playback image is going to show the opposite (dark trees and overblown city lights), but a simple Highlights adjustment in Lightroom will fix these elements, offering proper exposure.
One obstruction that hits you in the face immediately is the massive amount of power lines running down the middle of the Mississippi River. It's impossible to shoot from this side of the river without the power lines showing up, so it's best to just use them symetrically and make them work as another horizontal line for the photo.
With the depth of the snow, and the fact that I was now standing in the cold with wet snow in my shoes, I decided to make my way up to the bridge heading across the river. I used the spiral staircase leading up the side of the apartment building at the corner of Main and Central Avenue SE. Once I reached the top four stories up, the ramp was immediately available to cross the bridge.
About a quarter of the way across the bridge I entered a look-out section where I was able to set my tripod and get an exposure of the bridge and cityscape. I keep the ISO 200 setting, and captured the image at 20 seconds, f/14 with my lens at 18mm.
At the midway point of the bridge I again planted the tripod and used a setting of f/14 at 30 seconds, with lens set at 24mm. This is one of the best shots from the bridge, as it offers the proper lead-in line, a clear view of the skyline, and a few light trails from the minimal traffic using the bridge.
Instead of continuing on into the city, I turned back to return to my vehicle. There looked to be some decent views from across the street of the bridge, but no way to get there without going back to end and crossing the four lanes of traffic.
Once I reached the foot of the bridge, I decided not to cross, but do descend back down to Main Street where I was parked. After going back down the staircase, I instead went underneath the bridge and emerged on the other side, for a few shots more shots of the city from across the Mississippi. This offered a great view of the frozen Mississippi River with a 30-second exposure at f/14 with a 28mm.
The cold had taken it's toll and figuring I was already headed for a cold after this much exposure, it'd be best to call it a day and get to my hotel.