Ferries, Part 2
In my inaugural article last month, I featured a half dozen images of ferries used for the cross sound route between Seattle and Bainbridge Island. After moving to the island in 1988, I commuted to Seattle for work for approximately 27 years. If you do the math, that’s over 7,000 ferry rides right there, and that number doesn’t take into account all of the round-trip crossings on weekends for work, play, or other reasons.
In the late 90’s, I once had to take a car on the ferry. On the way back to the island, I went up to the top deck for some fresh air and instead fell asleep on one of the bench seats. This was back in the pre-9/11 days when they weren’t conducting security sweeps to make sure everyone had “disembarked the vessel.” To my extreme consternation, after waking up I discovered the ferry was headed back to Seattle and that my arrival home would be significantly delayed. Except for this one occasion, I can honestly say that I’ve never had a bad ferry ride. In my completely unbiased opinion, as long as you walk on and don’t have to deal with overloads – and as long as there is no ongoing pandemic – it’s the most civilized (and scenic) form of public transit in the entire world.
But I digress. In this article, I’m going to feature images taken from ferries. In case you’re curious, the Washington State Ferries operates the largest ferry system in the United States, with 21 vessels in varying sizes serving 10 routes and 20 terminals. The fleet includes three Jumbo Mark II class ferries, which have a capacity of 202 vehicles and 2,499 passengers. (So why couldn’t they squeeze in room for one more passenger to make it an even 2,500? Good question!) According to WSF statistics, the system carried 24.2 million passengers in 2016 with slightly over 25 percent of them – 6,429,853, to be exact – going back and forth between Seattle and Bainbridge Island. Thanks to this heavy ridership, our island usually rates two of the three Jumbo Mark II ferries – i.e., the MVV Puyallup, MVV Tacoma, and MVV Wenatchee – on its ferry runs at any given time.
Though capturing evocative images with a camera usually requires careful planning and preparation, there are moments when the photography gods smile on you and put you in the right place at the right time. In the summer of 2019, I was making a weekly trip to Seattle at the crack of dawn to shoot pictures of the city before its inhabitants woke up. It’s just so much nicer to not have to worry about moving cars, buses, and pedestrians when framing a shot, and the early morning tranquility is always a bonus. To maximize the quality daylight time, I was catching the 4:45 a.m. ferry, which meant I was boarding the boat in darkness with my fellow early birds. In early July when the below image was taken, the sun rises almost directly behind the Seattle skyline. As our boat approached the ferry terminal, the sun began its morning ascent in a relatively clear sky, providing a short-lived but very dramatic silhouette of the Seattle skyline that was colorfully reflected in the calm waters of Elliott Bay. While I don’t normally name an image based on the time I took it, in this case “5:12 A.M.” was an obvious and natural choice – and it looks fantastic on fine art acrylic, which is one of the mediums offered at our gallery in Winslow.
The above image also features the Seattle skyline but under much different conditions. Instead of first thing in the morning, this shot was taken in the late afternoon when the city was illuminated by a bright sun that was still a couple of hours away from sunset. If I’m doing something recreational, I’m usually okay with sunny blue skies (as long as it’s not too hot). When it comes to photography, however, I put sunny blue skies in the same category as dull-gray overcast skies – there just isn’t much you can do with a camera in your hands. Luckily, on this occasion, there were just enough low-lying clouds to add a pleasing background to the Seattle skyline. And yes, if you look real closely, you’ll see a certain viaduct still very much intact alongside the waterfront. (Although some of my photographs have become “historical documents,” I’m okay with that – and when the Seattle waterfront renovation is finally done, there will be new and exciting sights to capture!)
This image also illustrates how our ferries provide not only a terrific mode of transportation but also a great way to compose and frame your shots to make them more compelling. Since my ferry’s destination was Seattle, I meandered down to the front of the boat when it was maybe halfway across the Sound for a look-see. I liked what I saw and at one point I was able to frame a shot using the ferry structure that included the Space Needle on the far left and the Smith Tower on the far right. The problem was, the skyline was still too distant – so I waited a few minutes to recompose for a more intimate shot. As it turned out, for the best composition I had to decide between the two Seattle icons – it was one or the other but not both. While I’ve always had a soft spot for the Smith Tower, which once had bragging rights as the tallest skyscraper west of the Mississippi River, it was an easy choice to make.
Our ferry system isn’t just a marine highway connecting the many island communities of Puget Sound, it’s also one of the top tourist attractions in the state. As I mentioned in my opening article, if the desk clerk at the Seattle hotel where my family and I were staying while on vacation in 1986 hadn’t recommended that we take a ferry ride, I might never have discovered Bainbridge Island and – perish the thought – still be living in Southern California.
When it’s gracing us with an appearance, Mount Rainier is one reason why the Seattle-Bainbridge Island run is especially scenic. In the above image, the mountain is standing out in all its glory. While I’m no meteorologist, I have it on good authority that what looks like a cheap toupee atop the peak is actually a lenticular cloud. According to a former pilot who visited our gallery, lenticular clouds may appear friendly but in fact are very turbulent if not downright mean. As for why this image is called “Flying Solo,” please look closely at the top left corner. For unknown reasons, solitary birds like to somehow make their way into my photographs.
“SUN OVER RAINIER”
Except for those exclusively using the Agate Pass Bridge and never riding the ferry, every Bainbridge Islander knows that ferries “make the turn” just minutes after leaving or approaching the ferry terminal in Eagle Harbor. For a short time just before and after the turn, one end of the boat – depending on whether you are coming or going – faces Mount Rainier. That was the situation in the adjacent image, which was shot at an atypical time of day. While it more so applies to landscape photography, I think most photographers would agree that natural light conditions are best near the start and end of the day, and that high noon is the worst time of day for taking pictures. (The phrases “golden hour” and “blue hour” come to mind.) This is so because midday light can produce harsh and unflattering results when the sun is directly overhead. Rules are made to be broken, however, so when I noticed while the ferry was making its turn toward Eagle Harbor that the sun was almost directly above the top of Mount Rainier, I grabbed my camera and took a chance. Luckily, the variable overcast sky diffused the sun’s harshness so as to achieve a satisfying shot. “Sun Over Rainier” is one of those images that looks equally good on metal, canvas, and fine art acrylic.
Okay, temporarily disregard what I said earlier about my bias against sunny blue skies and midday photography. Though shooting in bright sunlight has its risks, it can also have its rewards. While approaching Bainbridge Island on the boat one sunny day in August, the Olympics were remarkably clear – so much so that between the waters of Puget Sound in the foreground, the azure sky in the top background, and everything else in between, I saw the potential for a study of blues. It would’ve been nice to have a little less haze, but all in all I can’t complain!
“PINK OVER ALKI”
Since we began with a sunrise shot, it makes sense to end with a twilight image when the sky transitions from daytime to evening with a palette of colors. If you’re ever hoping to capture the pinks at the end of the day, you better have your camera gear at the ready because your window will be very short! “Pink Over Alki” is also a good example of how a ferry can be used not only to frame a given composition but also to provide an attractive context to the scene. Without a portion of the top deck of the ferry in the foreground, my hunch is that this image would have been quite ordinary notwithstanding the interesting colors above West Seattle.
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NEXT MONTH: We’ve just gotten started with this series with many themes yet to come, including Mount Rainier, sunrises, sunsets, Eagle Harbor, black and white, and fall colors. As for next month’s theme, for now I am going to keep that as a surprise – but only because I haven’t yet made up my mind. When you live on such a jewel of an island as we do, there are just too many choices!
PREVIOUS ARTICLES: Island Images with Andrew (“Andy”) Bergh
ABOUT ANDREW BERGH: Local artist Andrew (“Andy”) Bergh is a long-time Bainbridge Islander (33+ years), whose successful transition from law to photography began in 2010. After displaying his unique and evocative images at different venues, including the Bainbridge Island Studio Tours, the Saturday Farmers Market, and various local businesses, Andy took the big plunge in September 2018 when he opened his own gallery – Bergh Images – in downtown Winslow. His prints are offered in different mediums, including metal, canvas, and fine art acrylic prints; matted prints; and custom-framed black and white prints. Andy has an online presence at https://berghimages.com/, which also features his entertaining travel blog. The gallery is open every day but Monday, with Andy and his wife Carol regularly participating in the monthly First Friday Art Walks sponsored by the Bainbridge Island Downtown Association.
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