Greenhouse Door

The Scene

Some photographers think they need to visit unusual locations far away to get great photographs but opportunity often sits next door waiting to be recognized. While driving on the road in front of our house, I often glanced at a building complex called “Gibson Greenhouses” that is located a few blocks away. Since a greenhouse is designed to allow plenty of light to pass through its walls and roof I thought the buildings might contain some photo opportunities.

I contacted the owner and explained that my goal was to wander around his buildings in hope that I would find something to photograph. Fortunately, he was kind enough to grant me access and I scheduled a visit in the early afternoon so I could see the buildings change as the sun moved westward through the sky.

I loaded a dozen sheets of film thinking that twelve exposures would be more than enough for the afternoon but I was shocked by the large number of scenes with beautiful light and fantastic textures that I saw. I began shooting shortly after I arrived, one exposure per scene, and ran out of film after about three and a half hours. I clearly had underestimated the beauty that had been resting quietly a few blocks from my home.

I worked-up nine good images that exhibit a strong presence of light and have posted seven on my website so far. You may enjoy taking a look at them if you have time. Visit  and click on the “Galleries” tab at the top and then click on the image displayed for the “Gibson Greenhouses” gallery to view small thumbnails of all seven photos. Move the cursor over the first thumbnail to view a larger thumbnail and then click to view a larger image. After viewing the image, click “Next” to cycle through the other six images at large size.


The image discussed today is a metal door which was painted countless times through the years and developed a wonderful texture of cracked paint. A glass pane within the door and panes surrounding the door revealed plants bathed by soft light inside the building. I thought the softly textured, luminous environment inside the building contrasted well with the hard, textured metal door. An image was composed which identified the door as the dominant object but included enough glass for the viewer to glimpse what was on the other side of the door.

Everything on the near side of the door was in full shade and I normally would have emphasized the door’s texture by increasing film development time to expand image contrast on the film. However, that couldn’t be done in this case because everything on the other side of the door was bathed in soft but bright light and expanding film contrast would have caused those objects to become too bright and loose important detail.

I knew exposure was critical for this scene and I carefully took several readings with a good light meter. The wide band of dark rust surrounding the glass pane in the door was placed on Zone III (dark with good texture) to preserve image detail in this important area. The brightest areas seen through the glass panes fell on Zone VII (bright with good texture) so normal film development (rather than increased development) was proper to retain important detail in both dark and bright image areas.

A sheet of Kodak Tri-X film (ASA 320) was exposed for 1/15 sec at f/22 & 1/3 (read as f  “twenty two and one third”). I was excited about the photograph and hoped it would capture the wonderful texture of the door and allow the viewer to imagine opening the door to reveal plants bathed by soft light inside the building.


I scanned my 4inch x 5inch black & white negative with a drum scanner by capturing 5,000 ppi with 16-bit pixel depth. No adjustments were necessary during scanning so I was satisfied with the exposure and development choices that were made in the field.

As usual, I spent some time studying the image and developing a goal for image editing. I planned to show the wonderful texture of the door and convey the feeling that it led into a building which was filled with plants that were bathed by lots of soft sunlight. To achieve this goal, the door texture needed strengthening, the panes of glass needed softening and a feeling of “entry” into the building was necessary.

Normally my first edit step involves exploring an image globally using the PhotoShop Levels tool but this was not a good choice here since one part of the image (the door) needed a contrast increase whereas another part of the image (the glass panes) needed a contrast decrease. Since PhotoShop’s Curve tool provides more refined tonal adjustments it was more useful for exploring this image. That is, curve adjustment was a more effective way to achieve my editing goal since dark tones/midtones of the door (which need strengthening) and the brightest tones of the glass panes (which need softening) could be adjusted independently. I explored the image with many curve adjustments and finally settled on a somewhat complicated curve modification.

First, I moved the black point of the curve about 6 gray levels (on an 8-bit tonal scale of 256 gray levels) to strengthen (i.e. darken) the darkest tones in the image. Then, I selected the dark half of the tonal scale on the curve and bent the curve downward to further strengthen (i.e. darken) the dark tones. These adjustments strengthened texture considerably by increasing contrast within the door, its frame and the concrete blocks. The door began to “feel” like it was a heavy metal door.

Next, I selected the bright half of the tonal scale on the curve and bent the curve upward to brighten the lightest tones. This further increased contrast within the door frame and concrete blocks. Variations in paint color within the door became quite evident so the door’s texture was strengthened considerably. On the other hand, the brightest tones in the glass panes became too bright so the light lost its softness and became too harsh and some plant details were lost. This needed to be fixed in the next step.

I turned my attention to softening the bright panes of glass. Beginning with a gray level of 234 (out of 256) the bright end of the curve was bent sharply downward to darken only the brightest tones of the image. This reduced illumination harshness, softened the light considerably and developed more plant textures. The presence of plants bathed by soft light inside the building was strengthened.

Next, a few areas were retouched locally using PhotoShop’s Burn and Dodge tools. The most important area was the door handle since it had an important psychological affect on viewers. Recall that one editing objective for this image was to strengthen the feeling that the door provided access to a building which was filled with plants and sunlight. Since the door handle is used to open the door, it deserved attention. I used the Dodge tool to brighten the rectangular plate of the door handle until its tones were similar to those of the rectangular glass in the center of the door. Since the glass provided visual “entry” into the building, linking it tonally with the door handle strengthened the feeling that the door provided entry into the greenhouse building. I was surprised at how well this edit worked.

I like this image because it contrasts sharpness with softness and invites the viewer to open the hard metal door with his imagination to view the softness inside the greenhouse.

I use photo techniques in my work that allow large prints of high technical quality to be produced because many of my images depict enormous and detailed landscapes which simply look more impressive when printed large. The image discussed today, however, feels right to me when printed to a small size that can be held in the hand (e.g. 11 inch x 14 inch).


The subject of this photograph is a wonderfully textured door that provides entry into a greenhouse which contains plants that are bathed by lots of soft sunlight. I believe the final image does justice to the subject.

Any comments you might have about the image, the photographic approach used for it, its composition, or image workup will be appreciated. For a larger view of the photograph, visit here .

Randall R Bresee

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