As part of my #SeattlePlayedOut project, I’ve been going around to Seattle’s most photographed spots in an attempt to create my own take on the overdone shots. When you see a photo of Seattle, it’s usually from one of these sites. If you’re from the area, you’re likely to be intimately familiar with them; maybe you’re fortunate (or unfortunate, due to instagram) to live near one. While many “photographers” do their best to hide where they’ve taken their photos, in the rightful belief that the location is all that makes their photo special, some of us are aware that compositions change with each passing hour, day, and season, thus never looks the same on separate visits. Two people can even photograph the same space, at the same time, in different ways; they may see different elements and especially after the passage of time, can encounter a wholly different composition. Those who try to hide their “finds” usually lack the creativity to see something different, wrongfully assume their look is the only possible look, or are just too ignorant to know better. Never be too lazy or too arrogant to revisit a location at another time to capture another look. Another photographer can even help you see the same view in a different way, giving you another perspective. Seeing many different takes on these well worn, played out locations gave me the idea of trying to do my own take on these overexposed views.
That being said, I’m going to list these 5, famously photogenic Seattle vistas with their proper names, address and an example or two from my own visits there, if I have one. Maybe you’re new to town, a tourist, or even lived here a long time but could never find where a few on this list are. Mind you, this is in no way comprehensive; Seattle is full of incredible views with a skyline that’s changing by the minute due to incredible economic growth. These are just the 5 most commonly seen and should be automatic for any local or tourist with a camera.
1. Kerry Park (211 West Highland Drive). This southerly view of downtown from Queen Anne Hill puts Seattle’s most famous landmark, the Space Needle, front and center of your composition, but that’s not all. On a clear day, Mt. Rainier will loom large in the background, from a faint silhouette to crisply defined in blue and white, depending on weather conditions. The best time to shoot from here is in the morning where you’ll run into mostly joggers, dog walkers and a handful of other photographers. The absolute worst time to show here is at sunset on a clear day: crowds will do their best to interfere with your shot and the angle of the setting sun will show you how well your lens hood does, or doesn’t, work.
2. Gasworks Park (2101 North Northlake Way). A look at downtown, specifically the neighborhood of South Lake Union, with Lake Union between you and the downtown core. Capitol Hill on the east and Queen Anne Hill on the west can help frame your shot. This spot benefits from either a really wide field of view to bring in the hills or a really narrow one in a game of exclusion. A calm, windless morning is your best bet, not only to avoid the throngs of people at this popular park, but to reduce the number of boats moving across the lake. Otherwise, if you want a long exposure to smooth out the water, all of the boat and seaplane traffic during the latter parts of the day will make your post-processing far more difficult.
3. Luna Park Hoa, aka Anchor Pier (1156 Alki Avenue Southwest). You’ll have found it when you’re standing on a short, wooden pier with a large anchor in front of it. From here you get a sweeping view of the downtown skyline from across Elliott Bay. Shoot it wide to capture everything from the Space Needle to Safeco Field and Harbor Island, or drill in and spy on views of the ferries at Coleman Dock. Noteworthy is the view of the State Route 99 Alaskan Way Viaduct, a double-decker highway that dominated the Seattle skyline for much of the 20th century. It’s scheduled to be torn down in 2019, forever changing the way the city looked for generations, and a feature that had become as much a signature of our skyline as the Space Needle still is and the Kingdome once was. Any time of day works as you can get up against the wire railing, but commonly shots are taken at night, during morning blue hour (especially since you’re facing east) and during sunset as the light reflects off the buildings.
4. Drumheller Fountain, UW Campus (3900 Rainier Vista Northeast). With the SoundTransit Link Light Rail expansion completed, you don’t have to wander through the UW campus to capture this view. The greenway that extends southeast from the fountain creates leading lines directly toward at Mt. Rainier. 2 things to consider before making the jaunt: weather and season. The weather must be clear to see the mountain at the end of the greenway and summertime is your best opportunity. Not only will you have better chance for clear skies but there’s less students on campus. Despite that, it’s a busy area due to UW Medical Center and the aforementioned light rail station, so arrive early in the morning and try to catch it just before sunrise or shortly after. A telephoto lens will be your best bet to compress the scene and keep the imposing sunrise from washing out the contrast. Evening shots are possible with a long exposure but mind that for every person walking by, you’ll have at least one stationary on the lawn if it’s warm. Other opportunities are during winter and spring breaks.
5. Jose Rizal Bridge (1008 12th Avenue South). While the other locations are popular, this one is probably the quintessential shot of Seattle despite lacking any view of the Space Needle. One of the few, great vantage points looking northward toward the city core, Rizal Bridge affords a clear view of the Olympic Mountains along the horizon when the weather is right, while the city’s architecture stands front and mostly center. This location benefits greatly from long exposures as the bridge crosses above the western terminus of Interstate 90 where it intersects Interstate 5. In the morning blue hour you can capture the light trails of traffic, dawn over your right shoulder and the early morning onshore flow bringing low clouds, and sometimes fog, to add exceptional drama to your composition. In the evening, the hues from the sun setting behind the Olympics casts a range of colors both on the sky and on the windows of the skyscrapers. Fast forming clouds in Spring and Autumn are something to plan for. Prominent in your shot will be the Columbia Center, Smith Tower and Great Wheel. With a wider lens, you’ll be able to add Century Link Field, Safeco Field, and the clock tower at King St. Station on your left with Yesler Terrace and Harborview Medical Center on your right. Shooting long exposures can be challenging as you’re shooting from a bridge that moves and shakes at the passing of heavy vehicles; being on a major bus route doesn’t help with that.
6. Pike Place Marketfront (1901 Western Avenue). This one is a bonus because it’s relatively new, lacking the long history of photos taken unlike the other locations. The view here is one whose features will evolve dramatically in the next few years due to city infrastructure investments designed to accommodate the wealthy at the expense of, and funded by, the middle class. While you could get a similar shot from Victor Steinbrueck Park next door, the ugly old parking garage now occupied by the Marketfront made compositions challenging at best. Now that the parking garage has been converted into an extension to the Pike Place Market and is taller than before, visitors can get an unobstructed view of the Seattle waterfront. Combined with the Great Wheel and the soon-to-be torn down Alaskan Way Viaduct, it’s a great location for long exposures on weekdays after the sun has set, with traffic along the viaduct creating light trails and the Great Wheel’s programmed lighting designed purposely to reveal itself in a long exposure photo. The Marketfront will only get more popular for photographers as the area progresses, the viaduct is torn down and the waterfront area is redeveloped but until then there’s a great opportunity to document the changes while also exercising a lot of creativity.
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