the photoshooter's journey from taking to making


Along came a (light) spider. Intense mid-day light on Summer Solstice 2012 creates dramatic shadows and heightened texture in this HDR image.



SOME SUBJECTS SEEM AS IF THEY ARE GOING TO FOLLOW A SURE PATH, then dog-leg on you in the doing. Last week I was fascinated to attend a celebration of the summer solstice in a building designed to highlight the drama of its unique light. Phoenix’ Burton Barr Library reading room, an enormous space bordered by shaded glass  on its north and south faces and slab concrete for its west and east walls, has, since its opening, hosted an annual midday demonstration by its architect, Will Bruder centered on the longest day of the year. First, a capacity crowd watches intense light crawl dramatically down the library’s west wall, seeming to sweep shadows downward like a rapidly descending curtain until the entire west surface fairly glows with light. For a few minutes, under this enhanced illumination,what normally appears as a seamless monolith of concrete shimmers with a million tiny fractures, creases, and flaws, rendering the usually dull surface alive with small but perceptible dances of color.

Immediately following this subtle but sweet show, as the sun travels to the west over the top of the library, the same display begins in reverse on the east wall, as shadows begin to crawl up from the floor and eventually confine sunlight on the concrete surface to a narrow slit at its top. The same intense reveal on every facet of the slab’s surface is seen again, and, along the ceiling, the library’s carefully designed support pillars, all positioned under individual circular skylights in the reading room’s roof, begin to resemble glowing candles. The entire phenomenon, subtle and quiet, yet beautiful in aspect, is all completed within a half hour.

In that half hour, my original shooting strategy, an overall wide shot to show the amazed onlookers inside the vast room, craning their necks to observe the miracle between rows of book shelves, moved from “sure thing” to “what was I thinking”? As it turned out “the story” was too big to be trusted to a big picture (!), and I came to realize that the heart of the light effect might best be told, for me, in one part of one wall. All the other props inside the structure provided so much visual information that nothing true was going to emerge in any attempt at an overall “coverage” image. I decided to show the shadowy tendrils trailing from a single part of the ceiling structure, but to shoot a three-shot bracket of exposures, all at ISO 100, to be combined later in High Dynamic Range software, to glean as much information (and the widest range of tone) on the texture revealed by the travel of the light across the wall.

The result was a shot that eliminated the rest of the overall solstice story as I tried instead to show object, shadow and detail combining as elements in one integrated design. It’s up to anyone as to whether I made the correct decision, but it’s safe to say that it was correct for me at the time. Sometimes a thing is interesting to look at by itself, for itself, without context or alibi. Of course I realize that I have provided both those things by writing this, but this forum is dedicated to the urge that makes us all throw something at the wall (excuse the expression) to see if anything sticks, so maybe it’s not wrong to give this a bit of backstory. Eventually, however, it’s either a picture or it’s not.



6 responses

  1. Oh, it’s a picture, most certainly, and a fine one at that! A monolithic beauty, painted in magical light. Love the processing, I could not tell it was an HDR image, which is nice for a change, as it seems to be everyone’s favorite toy at the moment. Subtle, and very strong, compositionally. Very Nice! Am glad you threw your previous shooting strategy out the window, and went with this capture instead.

    June 27, 2012 at 1:46 PM

    • Thanks. I sometimes find that less is more, but then I worry if I’m just shying away from the tough tasks! I appreciate the look!

      June 27, 2012 at 3:02 PM

  2. I like that you shifted from trying to capture the human reactions to capturing the geometric effects of the light. The solstice at its most objective is simply an alignment of celestial physics, and it’s cool how you captured that in your corner of the earth.

    July 4, 2012 at 1:33 PM

    • I have shot large overall images of the immense Burton Barr reading room in years past, but I wanted here to just focus on the phenom itself. Thanks.

      July 4, 2012 at 1:57 PM

  3. What you said was actually very reasonable. But, think
    about this, suppose you were to write a killer headline?
    I ain’t suggesting your content is not solid., but what if you added something
    that grabbed folk’s attention? I mean SMALL MAY BE ALL | thenormaleye is kinda boring.
    You should glance at Yahoo’s home page and see how they create post titles to
    get viewers to open the links. You might add a related video or a pic
    or two to grab people excited about what you’ve got to say.
    In my opinion, it could make your posts a little bit more

    January 16, 2014 at 12:21 PM

    • I appreciate your suggestion, since the name of the game is chasing eyeballs to the site. Some titles suggest themselves naturally, while, sometimes, as a lifelong ad copywriter, I have to remember not to get too cute, or fall too much in love with the wordplay aspect. I will definitely take a look at the Yahoo page and other tutorials along this line. That said, I’m glad that you enjoyed the actual content, and please keep visiting. Thanks.

      January 16, 2014 at 1:20 PM

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