The PNW Chronicles – Seattle Cityscapes

In Gallery Collection, PNW, Show and Tell, Tips and tricks, Travel by jfischerLeave a Comment

Seattle is a photographer’s paradise, within a short drive of SeaTac airport, one can find everything from stunning cityscapes, epic mountain landscapes, beautiful gardens, tranquil island hideaways, commercial fishing docks, the list is endless.  While I have not had the opportunity to do more than scratch the surface for what this city has to offer, I have had the luck to shoot from some its most iconic locations and find a few unique ones as well along the way.

One of the great aspects about the city of Seattle is that it is quite literally surrounded by hills on almost every side, and often there is water between those hills and the city skyline.  This makes for many great viewpoints of capture the iconic outline of the city.  Here are a few of the best spots and a few hints and tips that I’ve discovered along the way.

Kerry Park – Queen Anne Neighborhood

When you see a photo of the Seattle skyline at near eye level with the Space Needle front and center, and maybe a view of Mt. Rainier in the distance if the photographer was lucky, it was most likely taken from Kerry Park.  Only a few miles north of down town Seattle, I wouldn’t suggest trying to walk or cycle the distance unless you are in shape, the elevation change going up to the Queen Anne area is not for the faint of heart.  However once you arrive, any doubt if the trip was worth it will be silenced.

Kerry Park Pano
Kerry Park Panoramic

First tip, get here early, especially on the weekend, doubly so when the weather is clear and Mt. Rainier is visible.  Second, the further to the right along the view-point the better.  At least try to get as much of the Space Needle visible as possible as there are a number of large trees that will partly block the view if you are too far to the left.  If possible, I suggest both a day time scouting trip to find where you want to get to on the rail come evening if its busy – that way you only have to fight for a spot once – and then for the evening / blue hour time for the night shot.

West Seattle / Harbor Tour

I won’t lie, I quite enjoyed the short harbor tour that sails from the all-to-touristy pier near the Aquarium.  I’ve done it twice now, and both times I came back with some interesting views of the city.  Now, you won’t be doing any long exposure shots to smooth the chop on the water, so cross your fingers for a fairly calm day.  If you want that long exposure effect, head across the bridge to West Seattle (also good for a few views of beach bodies playing volleyball or soaking up the sun on those rare days it is out).  There is a nice beach area and a boat ramp area with some good solid ground to set up the tripod.  With a moderate length telephoto lens you can pick your shot of the skyline.  I’ll suggest trying a set of shots for a panoramic.  I use Hugin for panoramic stitching.  Get the tripod flat and level, give a 20-30% overlap between shots to give the software good points to match and you will get good results.

Kerry Park Pano
Harbor Tour Skyline

I-90 curve from Doctor Jose P Rizal Bridge

Moving from the north, then west, and now down to the south end of town, you get the view seen in the header photo.  From the fantastic vantage point of the Dr. Jose Rizal Bridge one can get a great view of the twisting road as it snakes its way into the heart of the city.  Again, I suggest a day time recon trip to get a feel for what vantage point and lens choices you want to use come sunset and blue hour.  There are a couple good parking locations just on the south side of the bridge as there is a dog park and another park along 12th Ave so you should be able to get a spot almost any time of day with a minimal walk.

Jose Rizal Pano
Jose Rizal Bridge Panoramic

A few tips – first, the later shots will yield better light trails so its worth sticking around well after sunset.  However the larger cars and especially buses that frequent the bridge will cause enough shake in the bridge to ruin a photo.  Try to time your shots between the buses, or go for slightly shorter shots and plan to blend a few together to get the really long light trails that look best.  This way you only lose a 5 sec shot and not a 30sec frame when a bus rumbles by.  Work your way up and down the bridge to find the composition you like the best, ultra-wide lenses area great, but avoiding getting the bridge in the photo can be easier said than done.  Embrace the bridge you’re standing on, it can be a nice extra element to the photo.  Also, portrait oriented framing can be interesting.  A last tip, there is a hole in the chain link fence that surrounds the dog part which is adjacent to the bridge.  You should be able to see it off to your right about half way down the set of steps after you enter the double gate.  There is only room for one lens in the hole, but it does offer a different perspective on the skyline and I-90 curve that it is worth seeking out.  I would suggest trying to bring a friend a long as I had read that the park area could be a tad sketchy after dark.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Rizal Bridge Light Trails
Jose Rizal Bridge Wide Angle Light Trails

Space Needle Observation Deck

While it’s always great to get the most iconic building of the skyline in your photo of a city, sometimes it’s that building which you’ll find yourself standing in making that a little difficult.  Don’t make that persuade you from visiting the Space Needle, or the crowds, or the cost.  Even if the skies are not perfect, as long as the visibility distance is decent, I’d consider it a worthwhile trip.  If nothing else, you can get some great free views from the ground level and plenty of other activities in the immediate vicinity to enjoy (and of course photograph).

Skyline from Needle
Skyline from the Space Needle

Space Needle
Space Needle from the Ground

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