Omaha, Nebraska is an interesting place. Its mixture of old and ultra-modern presents the photographer with a wealth of photo opportunities. Sitting squarely on the modern side — and 210 feet above the Missouri River — is the new Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. It’s named for a former U. S. Senator who was influential in securing federal funding of the project.
After two years of construction, the picturesque cable stay bridge opened to the public in September, 2008. Each of its two pylons rises 210 feet over the river and, at the center of the bridge, the walkway is 60 feet above the water’s surface.
It’s the first pedestrian bridge to link two states: you can walk — or bike — its curving 3,000-foot length from Omaha, Nebraska to Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Photographing the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge
In Omaha, the three-acre Omaha Plaza sits just south of the bridge next to the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Visitor Center. From here you can create photos that include the nicely manicured vegetation and, especially at night, the lighted Fiber Wave sculpture which looks something like a patch of lighted tall grass. There’s also a fountain and playground.
Walking across the bridge, you’ll have a chance to photograph other bridge-crossers on foot and on bikes. The walkway forms a gentle S shape which allows for a variety of backgrounds for your people photos.
At the other side of the bridge — over a half-mile away — lies Council Bluffs, Iowa and Playland Park. When I was there in October, 2008, there wasn’t much to photograph on the Iowa side, but construction was underway along the riverbank.
The Bridge at Night
There are plenty of photo ops during the day, but come twilight, this bridge really shines. As with most so-called night photography, your best pictures will be made while there is still color in the sky. But you’ll want to keep photographing into the black of night, so bring a tripod and plan to stay a while.
The lighting is beautifully designed. The pylons, walkway, cables, and the entire area around the bridge on the Omaha side are all well lit.
Each pylon tower is topped by a large LED light that, I’m told, changes color. Both LED’s were blue during my visit, so I’m not sure how often the color changes. I have seen other photos where the lights are red.
The bridge is located right behind the Qwest Center in downtown Omaha. For a nice walk, enter the grounds of the Qwest Center at Capitol Avenue and North 10th Street. You’ll cross under the 408 freeway and then over a series of elevated walkways that will take you — traffic-free — to the Lewis and Clark Landing. Take a few photos there and then walk north along the river to the bridge.
Once you’ve had your fill of the bridge, there are some other places of interest within walking distance. Continue north along the river up to Miller’s Landing where a small paddle-wheel tour boat is moored. In the opposite direction, you’ll come to Heartland of America Park with its large lake and fountain. Also nearby is the Gene Leahy Mall and the Old Market district.
For this assignment, you’ll need a tripod. If you don’t want to carry a full-sized tripod, there are some good, compact travel tripods available.
The travel tripod I use has been discontinued: the Velbon Maxi 343E. It’s lightweight and, when folded, is only about 18-inches long. This is a tripod you can carry places where your full-sized tripod just doesn’t fit: inside museums, on crowded city streets, and on urban hikes to photograph picturesque bridges. You might be able to find a used one on eBay or in the used equipment department at Adorama.
If I had to replace my travel tripod today, I’d look at the Slik Sprint Mini. It’s even shorter — about 14-inches — when folded. If you’ve never used a travel tripod, you won’t believe how important the folded length is when traveling through a crowded environment. The light weight makes it easy to carry a tripod when you’d otherwise leave your full-sized tripod in your hotel room.
For a full-sized tripod, I recommend a Gitzo 6X Carbon Fiber Tripod. Specifically, the GT0531 Mountaineer. For us taller photographers who don’t want to bend over so much, I recommend one of the Gitzo LS models, such as the Gitzo GT5541LS, with its maximum height of just over 5-feet! And that’s not including the height a ball head and camera.
When making long exposures, you’ll also want to use a remote release (or cable release). The remote release isolates the camera from your finger so that no shake is induced when you activate the shutter. In a pinch, you can use the camera’s timer feature, but a remote release makes it a whole lot easier. For the Nikon D300 — and many other Nikon models — get the Nikon MC-30 Remote Trigger. Here’s a link to remote releases for Canon and other brands.