Lurking in the Churchyard

Lurk (intransitive verb):  to move furtively or inconspicuously.  Middle English, akin to Middle High German luren, to lie in wait.

I do a lot of this.   Lurking, that is.    At night.   And I have the images to prove it.

I honestly don’t think most people SEE at night. Otherwise, there would be crowds wandering deserted streets at night, exclaiming over the neon of an isolated roadhouse, or trekking mountain paths in the moonlight, marveling at the interplay of light and shadow in a moonlit glade.

Last week, I went for a walk at midnight in an aspen grove in Colorado. By day, this path wove through a pleasant but not particularly remarkable stand of trees bordering a wetland south of Denver. By night, as I walked along with the moon at my back, each tree glowed with a silver luminosity as if lit from within.  Returning, the shadowed back of each trunk thrust darkly upward against the moonlit meadows.  Each grove became its own composition of light and shadow, line and shape.

Night photography requires dedicated, sophisticated, and well-planned lurking.  One must haunt lonely alleys in the bad parts of town,  street lamps in lonely alleys, the “Old Town” areas of many cities, and small towns in Kentucky at midnight.  Being questioned by policemen is an occupational hazard, though most will dismiss you as a harmless eccentric when they see your camera and tripod– art is a socially acceptable form of lunacy.

The rewards are worth it however.  I captured two bored pizza jockeys at an all night pizza stand with my 1928 Kodak late one night in Seattle’s Pioneer Square.


Wandering Denver’s LoDo district on the 16th Street Mall, I caught this shot of her looking contemplatively into the windows of one of our favorite haunts, the Tattered Cover bookstore:

Janie at the Tattered Cover

If you really want to do good lurking, however, the best place is a graveyard.  Not only can you carry on the tradition of the legions of fine skulkers in the shadows of film and fiction, if there is any source of illumination, you may scuttle away into the darkness with some striking images.

St Mary’s historic Anglican Church in Metchosin, B.C. not only has a churchyard fill with pioneer headstones, it also has a perfectly situated spotlight illuminating the tombstones.  Meant to discourage vandals and beer-swilling teens, it casts a dramatic light over headstones, trees, and a quaint wrought iron bench.

Crosses in the Churchyard

The Bench in the Churchyard

My favorite image came when I noticed my shadow falling in the stone.  I initially struggled to maneuver around so that I could shoot the headstones without a shadow from either myself or my camera and tripod.  This was almost impossible at many of the best angles.  Suddenly, I saw my shadow fall outward between the stones, and that image capture circuit in my brain flashed on.  I stood over my tripod, superimposing my shadow over it, opened the shutter, and stood rigid for four minutes while the film recorded the tombstones disappearing into the darkness while my sinister shadow crept between them.

The Shadow in the Churchyard

I love these images.  Next time it’s dark, don’t just head off to the grocery store- stop and look around, and maybe wander a bit.  And if you notice a dark figure skulking about, check to see if it’s carrying an old Kodak before you whack it with your umbrella.


One Response to “Lurking in the Churchyard”

  1. Dr Coronet Says:

    I too enjoy night-time photog and lucking: 🙂

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