Behind the Photo: Capturing Historic Structures at a Drought-Ridden Shasta Lake

With another drought causing low water levels in Northern California, we wanted to revisit a unique story of historic structures seen on Shasta Lake. Below is a story from our print magazine in 2015 about the awesome photo below.

Photo by Chris Nelson/Redding California Photography

A dentist through the week and a photographer on weekends, Chris Nelson finds solace in the outdoors equipped with his camera. Nelson’s captured this stunning image (above) of an adventurer resting on a hammock on the rarely seen beams of a lost bridge, only showing itself during extreme drought on Shasta Lake. In his own words, Nelson tells the story behind the photo:

If I go outdoors,I’m bringing my camera, whether it’s my GoPro or my big camera with the tripod and lenses. Typically I don’t plan it out. We’ll go outdoors and I’ll bring my camera and we might get a cool photo. But, this one I planned out.

Eagles Nest Outfitters does a photo contest every month and my brother-in-law, Scot Groundwater, and I had won the photo contest before and received some free gear from them. I saw pictures of the bridge that had been sticking out of the water because of the low lake and I asked my friend where it was so I could go out and take pictures of it. Scot and I both had a day off and we wanted to go explore this bridge. We had to wade through a bunch of mud just to get to the shoreline and we paddled out to it. Scot is really into rock climbing, so he loaded up his climbing gear and I brought all of my photography gear. We paddled around the bridge to get a good vantage point. It has a tunnel going through the rocks and it comes out and there is the bridge. So I decided that I would hike up the dirt and stand on top of the tunnel and setup my tripod and gear there while he set up the hammock.

I brought a ton of fancy equipment. I brought a bunch of neutral density filters, graduated filters, some fancy lenses and my Cannon 5D Mark III camera. I brought my Lee 10-stop neutral density filter so on a really bright day you can shoot moving water because it basically looks like a piece of welding glass. If you look at the shadows of the image it was mid-afternoon, because that bridge is facing towards the east so the sun was over my right hand shoulder, so it was probably around two or three in the afternoon.

The adventure itself was a few hours once we were in the boat. It took us about a half an hour to paddle out to the bridge and it always takes at least a half an hour for me to take an image that’s worthy of my personal gallery and website display. I’m pretty meticulous about that stuff.

That image is a composite. So basically I took a two-minute exposure to get the water completely black and still and also to get some motion in the clouds. And then I took a quick picture without filters in front of the camera to get the hammock still. So he was there in both images but I was able to combine to two photos on my computer. The tripod and camera didn’t move so it was pretty easy to composite on the computer. It turned out to be, what I think, is a pretty stunning image.

We ended up winning the photo contest and I ended up getting some more free gear from the company. They (Eagle’s Nest Outfitters) still have the picture on their website. Now on my next hiking trip I’m going to bring my camera and hammock, because I want to win more free gear.

For more information on Chris Nelson and Redding California Photography, visit his website or find them on Facebook at Redding California Photography.


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Telling the Stories of Northern California

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