Parking Structures

Parking structures.  Sounds like a boring subject, doesn’t it. Actually, I’ve been shooting parking structures commercially for years for various clients. I have to make them look like “Palaces for Automobiles”. That can be a challenge. The people who design and build them are very proud of their work.

Of course the structures look better at night, like most subjects I shoot. I find them abstract, yet so ubiquitous in our modern urban world. They’re great to shoot when they are new and clean, too.

These shots are from about a half dozen different locations in California. As usual, I’m only showing night work. None of these images were used commercially. To be honest, they were really shot for me to push my creative skills. After all, I’m out there to do a job, so I simply stay longer to shoot more at night.


I think this makes a great establishing shot. The palm trees give it away that it’s Southern California, but it could be another sunbelt area. The urban light scatter gives that magenta sky in this 30 second exposure. It’s a parking structure, plain and simple but this view makes it seem monumental.



The strange patterns from the light fixtures is really exaggerated in the photo. It didn’t look as dramatic to the naked eye. It’s hard to see at this resolution, but the glow on the metallic paint on the silver/gray car got my attention. It seems as if it was studio lit.



I always look for mixed lighting situations and this one is a fascinating example. What you are looking at is the light from a mercury vapor lamp on the roof deck of the structure spilling down to the deck below. You can see another one in the background on the left. Again, this wasn’t as obvious to the eye, but the camera records it. There is no added color or light for this or any of the other shots–it’s just a matter of seeing what is there.



This image is about graphic shapes with light and shadow. It’s very simple. It seems like most parking structures have a different light source for the top level than the lower levels, as shown here.



The elevator shaft structure is an important one for an 6 floor structure. Again, the urban glow gives that magenta sky at night.



Sometimes the simple image works best. Here the yellow of the ‘floor 2’ and arrow seem to work together, contrasting nicely with the cool toned concrete.



Here is a great example of the perfectly straight verticals and all the tilted horizontals. It must be an engineering nightmare to design and build these structures! I shot two versions of this, but I really like the tractor trailer red running lights coming off an over pass in the background. Note the glow of red on the middle incline.



That green sure is lurid! I guess they don’t want anyone to hit that wall as you drive out. I like that it’s both back lit and front lit, as least on the lower part.



This rooftop view seems to have these concrete monoliths coming out of the floor. They are part of the structural beams and echo the light poles.



Yes, this is just a wall on the ground floor, but it has great texture and I like what is going on in the background on each end, giving it depth. Note the tilting ceiling. The verticals are perfectly aligned.



Floor 4–obviously. These 6 foot high numbers makes it easy to see the floor number. The lighting on this column is quite dramatic, too.



This rounded top floor structure houses the elevator shafts and stairwell. It really had a dramatic presence. More of the concrete monoliths, too.



Tilted floors again. This is shot with a long lens to compress the size of the area beneath the truck to add drama. Shooting vertically also adds a dynamic.


I was fascinated by what a friend sent me on what Apple expects of their desktop images. I certainly don’t go through these lengths to manipulate an image, but many people love the computer time of photography. Have a look at the ‘instructions’ in the meta data that wasn’t ‘scrubbed’ from this night shot of Half Dome in Yosemite.


I wanted to mention that my mentor from college, Steve Harper, who got me interested in night photography many years ago recently passed away. He pushed me to be more creative with his always constructive criticism. I often think of him and still think he will comment on this blog as he often did on previous posts. We who studied under him all miss him greatly. I dedicate this blog to him. Happy travels, Steve.

34 Responses to Parking Structures

  1. Beautiful shots Tom. Esp like 2 with the arrow. Great nighttime images!

  2. Wena Dows says:

    Nice job, Tom. Who wodda thought!!

  3. david roccosalva says:

    these are beautiful!

  4. Connie says:

    Tom, these are fabulous!!! My kind of photography!!!! Great job!!!

  5. Lollie Ortiz says:

    You have surely made parking structures a more attractive imagery. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Ming-Kong Liu says:

    These are really beautiful shots. You were able to create a wonderful pattern of various lights interplaying with the concrete structures.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Tom Paiva says:

      When you consider that they are just concrete parking structures, there’s a lot to look at and observe. Thanks for commenting.

  7. John Maher says:

    Superb collection of photos. Admire the attention to detail. Love ’em!

  8. Ted says:

    Tom, love these images — can’t imagine that the customer wouldn’t have used them… Or did you hold back for your personal use? :^)

    You sure have a talent at making “the mundane” look attractive and artistic. I’m sure the structure architects are very flattered. (They should be.)

  9. Thom Bennett says:

    Great creative approach to a seemingly mundane subject!

  10. Dan says:

    As always Tom you’ve managed to find the beauty where everyone is looking but nobody sees. Bravo.


  11. Kim Cooper says:

    Interesting perspective, as always, Tom. Your pictures make the parking structures look quite inviting. 🙂 Have you ever been to Santana Row in San Jose? Their multi-floor parking lot has red and green lights in the parking spaces to signify occupancy. I’ll bet you could take some creative pictures there.

    • Tom Paiva says:


      Yes, I’ve shot those red/green lights for many clients. They’ve had that feature in Europe for a couple of decades now. It makes it very convenient to park. Glad you enjoy the work. Tom

  12. Kara Gragg says:

    These are fantastic. The beauty of parking structures is often overlooked, but you nailed it here! Great job! Kara

  13. Barbara O'Neill says:

    Wow – amazing shots as usual. You can make the ordinary seem extraordinary. I am sure there are many garages that look alike, but the one with the elevator looks very much like the downtown structure where I live in Petaluma. I like the varying colors at night – so much more interesting that the same shots would be during the day.

    Thanks for sharing Tom! Barbara

  14. kay says:

    Hi Tom
    Amazing how this structures translate into vivid graphic shapes in your images. great work!

  15. Arzell Hale says:

    Tom, you are amazing!!! Who would have thought parking structures are interesting??? You are so creative and have the patience of Job!!! Thanks for a great job.


  16. Dave says:

    Tom, loved these shots! They gave me such a feel of quiet and peace…
    Hope to see you soon!

    • Tom Paiva says:


      I guess empty parking lots have a peace to them. Never thought of that way. Most are empty at night. Take care and hope you’re doing well. Tom

  17. Tom, only you could make parking structures so beautiful!

  18. interesting concept, liked the #4, keep them coming.

  19. Tom Mott says:


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