the photoshooter's journey from taking to making


What lies beyond that door? Probably nothing to match the outside mood afforded to this forgotten delivery entrance by the onset of night. Hey, this is all about the magic, right? 15 second time-exposure, f/9, ISO 100, 20mm.


THERE’S A REASON BATMAN DOESN’T SWING THROUGH THE SKY AT HIGH NOON. Or that Shakespeare didn’t have his witches crowded around a cauldron during the mid-morning coffee break. And, of course, there are no love ballads bearing the title By The Light Of The Silvery…Sun. Mood is everything in photography and many subjects just don’t convey mystery or romance when brightly lit. This is no truer anywhere else than in the American southwest.

In Arizona, New Mexico, and California, there are plenty of places where the sun blazes away like a Hollywood klieg light during most of the day. The light is harsh, white, glaring. By mid-morning across the summer months most of the richer colors are blasted right out of the sky, and the only way to capture beauty is to wait for the hours warmed by low light.

Or no light.

I’ve always been a big believer in the transformation of familiar materials once night falls, and, going back to my old baby box camera days, I have always marveled at the simple miracle of holding a shutter open long enough to wring a few extra drops of light—just enough–from the deepening dark. I call it waiting for the reveal, and it never fails to serve up surprises.

One night last week, I was waiting on the sunset to fully finish behind a destination restaurant in Paradise Valley, Arizona (that’s really the name of the town…kind of like naming your city “Wonderfulville”). The front entrances and patios were gorgeous, of course, but after about a half hour I found myself getting restless with the utter postcardiness of it all. I was looking for something off the grid, forbidden even.

I found this door around the side of the resort, hidden by an overgrown, narrow walkway and illuminated by a single bleak bulb. As a location, especially in the daytime, this is no one’s idea of a choice spot. Except at this precise moment. It actually works better because of how much you can’t see, and I can’t justify shooting it at all, except that the reveal was working for me. And, while I liked the more conventional Chamber of Commerce shots I had taken earlier, there is something iffy and offbeat about this frame that I keep coming back to.

Sometimes the underdog is the best dog in the fight.


4 responses

  1. See– what I love about this picture is precisely that it creates such ambience for an amazing story about what’s inside. Thanks for posting it! Shots like this remind me about what’s inside or what the story is in the shot. Such great juice for writers.

    October 18, 2012 at 9:32 PM

    • Imaging is all about suggestion…..what COULD be, according to how we frame and light a picture. Thank you so much for your kind words.This blog is about dialogue, and I am never happier than when my ideas spark a conversation. Please come back, visit, and comment, anytime.

      October 18, 2012 at 11:24 PM

  2. Pam

    Ok, I’ve been drawn in. Are the leaves center top of the page illuminated by moonlight or some other type of lighting not visible in the shot? I think it’s moonlight. Keep it up, Mike!

    October 24, 2012 at 5:20 PM

    • The wall is actually just a little taller than the door, and, behind it is a very bright white light used to illuminate backstage functions (deliveries, etc.) at the restuarant. The light falls through the leaves (and across to the left retaining wall) with just the kind of blue-white look of moonlight, but the sky was actually quite dark that evening, so it’s a “genuine-fake” moon effect. Thanks for looking and taking the time to comment!

      October 25, 2012 at 10:42 AM

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