Stories from the Field – Alleyway in Cusco, Peru

There are just those photos you know when you see it, walking by, that they’re going to be with you for a long long time.  In the summer of 2014 my wife and I flew into Cusco, Peru, ahead of a 5 day trek on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.  Cusco is a vibrant town filled with local culture, bustling street scenes, and wide-eyed travelers beholding this former Incan metropolis for their first time.

However, despite the business, you can easily find yourself in a lost little corner of Cusco, having it all to yourself.  This is exactly what happened when I came across the above image.  Down a hidden alley, not too far away from the best restaurant for traditional Peruvian Cuy, a colorful and mysterious scene presented itself before me.

Noticing the striking contrast between light and dark, with the blackness of the alley framed perfectly around the vibrant yellow, orange, and red walls of the inner-plaza, I began shooting.  Since I knew the alley was going to be completely black due to the strong light contrast, it didn’t really even need to be in focus.  I set my camera at a modest f/5.6.  And knowing that the color and composition of the shot would be the most noticeable elements, I composed the shot as if the tunneling alley were to form a picture frame around the sun-lit yellow-orange wall.

The moral of the story here is that light and composition can yield a great photo, even if there is virtually nothing else all that noticeable going on. The door, although interesting, isn’t particularly beautiful.  There isn’t a glorious waterfall or charismatic wild animal somewhere in the shot.  It’s pretty much a dark hallway with some light at the end.  But, when that light is evocative and there’s a story to go behind the photo, it can serve as a wonderful image and an even better memory in your “mental portfolio” of your adventure.