Night Lights

It was a chilly February night, and the crowds had only begun to show up.  The Portland Winter Light Festival was the draw and with a messy snowstorm in the forecast, this night was prime to be popular.

I had an ulterior motive.   Night photography is something I’ve done little of, and I’d long had a hankering to photograph the city bridges by night, with city lights reflecting in the water.  As the Winter Light Festival was on the waterfront, and several of the bridges were within walking range the choice to check it out was a no brainer.

(Click on any picture for a larger view)

Morrison Bridge

You might see “winter lights” and think “Christmas lights”, but you’d be wrong.  Think artisans, think folks with imagination and an inclination to include a lighting aspect in their creations.

Polar Bear on Ice, with Hawthorn Bridge

The Light Festival had displays on both sides of the Willamette River.  We opted to walk the esplanade on the east side, taking us from the Hawthorn bridge south to the Tilikum Crossing, passing OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) on the way.  The downtown city lights provided a backdrop as we looked across the river.

Hawthorn Bridge

We came across various displays, each unique.   Like moths attracted to light, bystanders wandered in to have a closer look.

Lanterns.  A breeze would set them spinning, along with the patterns below.

The crowd was eclectic, the light electric.   But even the very young were looking for deeper truths.

What’s inside a butterflies tail?

Butterflies don’t do it for you?  How about horned sea horses?


If Superman used a phone booth to transform himself, what sort of hero would use this one?

Multiple choice:  what is the following?
A. An Igloo from a hipster Eskimo trying to channel the aurora borealis
B. The top of a pumpkin after a night of heavy drinking
C. A fountain, caught in a time warp
D. Your guess, in the comments


I mentioned that our path would take us past OMSI.   In the river outside the museum, we have a submarine first launched in 1959 called the USS Blueback.  She was the last non-nuclear combat submarine to join the United States Navy and was decommissioned in 1990.  The sub is available for tours.  Just sticking your nose in its cramped spaces is claustrophobic, it’s hard to believe 85 men would live on it for months at a time.

USS Blueback, with Tilikum Crossing bridge

Next to the museum is the propeller from the sub.  It’s been ground down, polished, and silvery.  I suspect it didn’t look like that while in service; now, it’s a work of art.

Silver propeller, feeling the blues

But when it really comes down to it, I came to photograph the Tilikum Crossing bridge at night.  It’s the newest bridge crossing in the city, opened in 2015.  What makes it unusual is its limited use.  They restrict it to public transit (light rail, trolley, and buses), pedestrians, bicyclists, and emergency vehicles.  The thinking was they needed a new river crossing for a new light rail line, but the street infrastructure at each end of the bridge wouldn’t support the additional traffic a full usage bridge would bring.

Tilikum Crossing Bridge

Whatever the thinking was, it’s a picturesque bridge at night.

Night lights.  They come in many guises, each a creative expression, intentional or not.  For some, they are a safe harbor, an escape from the dark.  For others, they’re a beacon that says, “party here!”  For the artists of the Winter Light Festival, they’re a way to bring their inner light to an outer world.

47 thoughts on “Night Lights

    1. I don’t know if I’d go so far as saying it was one my first attempts at night photography, I just haven’t done very much of it. Thanks, Peter, it was kind of fun (although a tad chilly).

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Loved the photos (and great skills there Dave!) but more importantly I loved your descriptions. Portland seems rather enlightened when it comes to art or public spaces; having a bridge only dedicated to public transportation (or bikes/pedestrian) is a really intelligent idea. Over here in London Bonkers Boris toyed with the idea too, spent £5m of public money and then did sod all…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We had a similar problem trying to replace/upgrade the interstate bridge between Oregon and Washington state. Spent 35 million designing it (including support for light rail), but the folks on the Washington side didn’t want to fund their part (even though they use it more than we do to commute to Portland.) Now, a few years later, guess who’s making noises about building a new bridge?

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Beautiful images. What a cool festival. I have to go with choice A. What an imagination you have. I haven’t done much night photography, other than the aurora borealis. I keep telling myself I need to learn more manual stuff, but I never seem to get around to it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t use full manual. I think I set the ISO and used aperture priority, then let the shutter speed float since I was using a tripod. There was enough light I didn’t have to get too hard core. Frame of reference; the last shot was 1.5 seconds, ISO 1000, f5.6, and I set the EV down a half stop to get a little more saturation.

      From what I understand shooting the aurora can be a bit tricky, so well done for going there.

      BTW, I thought of another option for the igloo – bundt cake on acid.


  3. I love the night lights.. I love to boogie…
    (Sorry, someone had to say it)

    That Tillikum bridge is lovely and I expect will stay that way given it’s limited use. As for the guess, your bundt cake wins. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lovely photos. i particularly like the one of the lanterns. The river and the lit up bridges in all the colors reminded me of a city in VietNam Denang. The bridges are lit up every night and some are in shapes of snakes and dragons… this seems so remindful somehow.

    Great options haha and my guess is C


    Liked by 1 person

  5. Lovely to travel back to Portland with you virtually. I adore the city but have been away too long, last visiting in Fall 2007. The Tilikum Crossing Is a magnificent addition to the city and you have captured it beautifully with your camera. And I so enjoyed the Winter Light Festival!. I thought that ‘mystery later’ looked like a Rainbow Bundt Cake. Love Bundt Cake.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Dave, Stunning photos! All photography can be a challenge, especially night photography. You have definitely captured beautiful scenes. I love the reflections in the water. I like your words “moths attracted to light.”

    I am an amateur with a point and shoot camera. I enjoy taking many photos, and I get lucky once in awhile.

    I have only driven through Portland, once. I used to enjoy watching Portlandia, and I likely have a preconceived view on the city from that show.

    A very creative, interesting post. Thank you for sharing. Erica

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Erica, welcome to the gang.

      I’ve been dabbling with photography for 40 years and have gotten more into it in the last couple years, but I still wouldn’t call myself hard core.

      Nice that you’ve tasted Portland. I’d take “Portlandia” with a grain of salt – a satire, an exaggeration of quirkier aspects. Realistically if you salted your home town with Portlandia you’d probably get closer to reality.

      Please feel free to check out the archives, there are lots of good stories there.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. 🙂 How I love this city ~ as a kid growing up it was a trip down I-84 from Pendleton to the Rose City ~ and you do it justice with these great photos. There is something special about night shooting that can bring a place familiar into a world never seen, fantastic. “Like moths attracted to light…” this is exactly the emotion you have here. And this is the first night photo I’ve seen of the Tilikum Crossing Bridge, well done!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds like you’re due for a return visit, to see all the changes firsthand. The first time I saw the Tilikum at night, close up I only had a cheap cell phone on hand. It was nice to be able to use a real camera and a tripod.


      1. Night shots, especially of bridges, can be such a fun thing to shoot as it is always changing due to cars/moonlight/people. Shooting at night is great because the mind has to create a new way of looking at the subject in the dark. I am looking forward to my return to Portland. Cheers.


  8. Great blog, Dave. I really enjoyed your foray into night photography and the Winter Fest seemed perfect for it. The post reminded me of my forays with camera out into the Playa and night at Burning Man— with my fingers crossed. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Curt. I can see how it might remind you of your Burning Man night shots. I don’t know that the crowd was quite as eclectic, but there were a few folks wearing an array of lights.


  9. The very last image is a nice one. That sure is a beautiful span at night! I’ve sorta been hankering for a trip down to Portland, if nothing else to load up to my heart’s desire in the labyrinth of Powell’s, always an enjoyable, consuming activity for our family.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great pics. I’m feeling rather pleased with myself because I got a good one of the waterfront lights reflected in Wellington harbour recently. And I managed it with my phone camera. A similar effect to yours of the Hawthorn Bridge.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A picture I took of the Tilikum bridge with a cell phone a couple years back was one of the inspirations for us to go to the winter lights festival. It turned out pretty well for a cheap cell phone, but I wanted to do it with my “real” camera and a tripod.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s