Bridges capture the imagination: they are a testament to the imagination and industry of humankind; a symbol of possibility and change; but most importantly for a photographer, they look really freaking cool. Pittsburgh, known as “the city of bridges,” has 446 to choose from. Some of my personal favorites? The Hot Metal Bridge, linking 2nd Ave and the South Side, presents dramatic criss-crossed iron with its adjacent pedestrian and vehicle bridges, with the added bonus that you’ll be out of the way of traffic for a safe and easy shoot. Another safe spot for a bridge shoot is the bike trail on Washington’s landing, where the steel and concrete contrasts nicely against the natural beauty of the shady river shore.
The Smithfield Street Bridge, the oldest steel bridge in the United States, has a fantastic old-school appeal, and is particularly beautiful at night with its boldly lit arches. And you can’t call yourself a Pittsburgh photographer until you’ve composed the perfect shot of the yellow “Three Sisters” over the Allegheny river. For extra credit, head to the Roberto Clemente bridge after a Pirates game, when it is closed to vehicular traffic and the exiting fans walk across to get back downtown. The scene bears an uncanny resemblance to something out of a Romero flick, which is why me and my brother call it the “zombie apocalypse bridge.”
And don’t limit yourself to the top of bridges! Make like a troll and head under the Bloomfield Bridge, the 40th Street Bridge in Lawrenceville, and more to make use of colorful graffiti backdrops and capture a gritty industrial feel.
Get your urban decay while you can! As Pittsburgh’s renaissance continues, our eerie and atmospheric industrial photo shoot locales are being swiftly replaced by shopping centers and hipster bars. But if you act now, there’s a rusted-out, busted-window warehouse within a stone’s throw from almost any place in the city. And if you REALLY want to exploit the human suffering left in the wake of a dead industry for your art, I recommend you head a few miles outside of town to Braddock or Beaver County. And remember that leaning against a brick wall is unassailably cool.
After plumbing the depths of Pittsburgh’s industrial wasteland, you might want to rinse the soot and misery off your soul by stopping by one of our many public parks funded by all that soot and misery and Andrew Carnegie’s Gospel of Wealth. Highland Park has more bridges, spooky tunnels, and large reservoir amidst its large span of green. Mellon Park in Shadyside has nifty fountains and a courtyard garden, and there are invariably five or more adorable dogs on its lawn at any time.
The Cathedral of Learning on Pitt’s campus in Oakland is a breathtaking 42-story tower with Gothic-inspired architecture that boasts plenty of photogenic scenery both inside and out. Don’t miss the Commons Room on the first through third floors of the building, which will make you feel like you’re in Hogwarts. It’s dim, but if you are up to the lighting challenge there’s some photo magic to be had.
For more Pittsburgh architectural delights, head downtown to check out the Allegheny County Courthouse, which looks like a old stone castle, or PPG place, which looks like a big glass castle that would fit right in as the boss level on an 8-bit Nintendo game.
Pittsburgh’s dense, triangular downtown presents a stunning skyline from almost any approach. The view from Mount Washington might be the most famous and popular for photographers, and it deserves its grand reputation. But I’m even more fond of the cityscape seen from the West End Overlook, which gives a more head-on view of the Golden Triangle. And then there’s the view from the seats at PNC Park on the North Shore, which is always a lovely sight, even when things are looking grim for our Buccos.
So get out there and snap the best vistas and backdrops that Pittsburgh has to offer!