The beautiful San Francisco Bay Bridge is in fact a complex of bridges that spans almost 5 miles from Oakland to San Francisco and is one of the longest spans of bridges in the United States. Part of the I-80, it carries about 240,000 vehicles per day over ten lanes on its two decks. It is currently the world’s widest bridge, according to Guinness World Records. Construction started in 1933 and it continues to be improved to this day.

The bridge is a main artery of the Bay Area and has seen many changes both small and large. Half of the bridge was recently rebuilt as a new self-anchored suspension bridge (SAS) and a pair of viaducts, and the demolition and removal of this 77-year old East Span is a project that will take up to five years to complete. The project’s progress can be tracked here.

Meanwhile, over on the Western side of the bridge, visible from San Francisco’s Embarcadero, lies one of the largest and most ambitious public art projects ever attempted.

In 2013 inspired by the Bay Bridge’s 75th Anniversary, artist Leo Villareal created a never repeating, dazzling display of 25,000 LED white lights, called simply The Bay Lights. The display is the world’s largest LED light sculpture at 1.8 miles wide and 500 feet high. It spans the entire Western section (which was recently officially renamed the Willie L. Brown Jr. Bridge).

It is this magnificent and awe-inspiring structure of lights that I sought to photograph on the longest night of the year.

On the shortest day, December 21st, the Bay Bridge was illuminated for the longest timespan of the whole year, from 4:54pm through 7:22am the following day. From dusk until dawn, the lights shimmered, reflecting a sustained expression of love, generosity and community.

I arrived just before sunset and took a series of shots that I hope tell a little story of a stroll along the Embarcadero, taking advantage of the changing light, color plus a few other things that distracted me on my jaunt to photograph the Bay Bridge.

I think the changing color of the early evening light was what fascinated me most. Also, I relished the unpredictability of the long exposure process, and having to wait 30 seconds to see what the camera had picked up, and how the rendering of the scene in front of me was to look.

For post-production of the images I used Lightroom, my standard program for photographic image editing. I intensified some of the hues by upping the vibrance, cropped and straightened images, added sharpening and clarity to some (and decreased clarity in others for a more dream-like effect), used a black and white preset for one, and made local exposure and shadow/highlight alterations to almost all. I didn’t change the white balance slider much – the variations in the color balancing is all due to the changes in the actual light conditions around me.

The bridge was a cool place to photograph in the evening, looking out over a bold colored sky with delicate shifts in the color and tone during the drawing down of the day. The Bay Bridge Lights art installation is such an impressive and novel idea (excellently executed too), as it’s a huge artwork made of light. The idea of using light as a medium in itself dovetails with what photography is at its heart – drawing with light.

Please click on any image to enlarge.

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Some of my images from the shoot have been selected and shared on The Bay Lights Facebook Group. Please check out their page!

About Illuminate

The Bay Bridge was funded by ILLUMINATE. It is a non-profit organization that exists to oversee the sculpture’s design, engineering, and fundraising. Its broader mission is to produce contemporary art with civic impact, social activation and global reach to stimulate a culture of generosity and collaboration.

Illuminate was founded by Ben Davis of Words Pictures Ideas, a public relations company that has a contract with the California Department of Transportation, after he characterized the Bay Bridge as being overshadowed by the Golden Gate Bridge, and sought to make the Bay Bridge an equally iconic tourist destination and rejuvenate local businesses.

Illuminate reached its fundraising goal of $4 million to pay for new equipment and re-installation. The Bay Lights were re-installed in January 2016 and will be a permanent part of the Bay Bridge, gifted to the State of California for ongoing stewardship.