By Naomi Jordan, Leah mesquita & David Ulloa Jr.
If there’s one thing Arizona does well, besides turquoise jewelry and prickly pear cocktails, it’s magic hour – that soulful, crease-filling twilight at the beginning and end of every day that has elevated the work of mediocre photographers since time immemorial. Which isn’t to say the 12 amateur and semi-pro shooters spotlighted here lack greatness. You’ll find their innovative sunrise and sunset shots quite spectacular, in fact. Maybe even magical.
HOW WE PICKED THE WINNER
From more than 100 submissions, our editors picked the 12 entries that best evinced the “Magic Hour” theme. Those dozen photos were then posted online for a two-week public vote.
“Saguaros at Sunset”
As an art gallery curator and real estate photographer, A.O. Tucker is always looking for beauty in his surroundings. The Litchfield Park resident snapped a photo of nature’s own desert silhouette on a late summer evening in Tucson Mountain Park in May 2023. Using a Sony Alpha 7R III, Tucker wanted to document the sun’s last burst of radiance before it slipped below the horizon. “My wife and I were in a rush to find the best composition,” Tucker says. “[It’s] when the light is normally the best, something I never tire of.” Find his work at aotucker.com.
Dennis Cooper, M.D.
“South Rim Sunset”
Scottsdale ophthalmologist Dennis Cooper has been an amateur photographer since grade school. He used his Canon EOS 40D to photograph this uniquely hooded sunset image within the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in June 2010. Cooper was enjoying a birthday weekend at the canyon when he moved away from the crowded South Rim Road to get a better vantage point. He crawled under an overhang where he could frame and focus the photo to capture the strange yellow light that illuminated the scene. “I knew I had something special and was anxious to download it at home,” Cooper says. “I wasn’t disappointed.”
—David Ulloa Jr.
Surprise legal assistant Joanna Proffitt has been moonlighting as a fine-art photographer for nearly 10 years (see our Studio Session profile of the shutterbug on page 90). Proffitt, who finds inspiration in the outdoors, used a Canon Rebel to capture the magnificence of an emerging thunderstorm in 2015. “I caught sight of this scene while traveling home on the highway and had to exit to take this shot,” she says. “Photography is my passion and a much-needed creative outlet for me.” Find more of her painterly photos at joannaproffitt.com or on Instagram at @joannaproffittphotography.
Melissa Everly is originally from West Virginia but has spent the last seven months traveling the U.S. in an RV with her two dogs. The nomad got her first “real” camera in 2010 when she lived in South Korea because she saw the beauty around her and wanted to preserve it. “I love that photos can bring you back to the same feelings you felt when you took the picture,” Everly says. “It freezes the good vibes permanently.” Everly took this picture in Page when she parked next to Glen Canyon Dam and went on a morning walk with her dogs. Both canines climbed to the top of the hill they were hiking, and Everly saw a perfect photo opportunity. “I love shots that contrast, and my dog Shiloh looked like a shadow with how dark he was… and with the sun coming up, it was such a pretty shot,” she says. She took this in June 2023 on her Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra camera. Find her work on Instagram @everly.melissa.
Christy French has always loved cameras, but she really got into photography a few years ago to shoot her artist husband’s metal sculptures and wearable art. The Peoria-based amateur took more than 50 shots of her daughter – wearing metal wings crafted by her husband – kicking around in the dust at the AZ Burners Saguaro Man gathering at sunset. French loved the way the fading light illuminated the wings. “We always say the sunset or sunrise is a magical time of day, so it is very fitting to actually catch a photograph of such an elusive creature as the fairy!” French says. She took this photo with her iPhone 11 camera in May 2023, on land near wineries in Willcox. Find her work on Instagram @rowanvortex.
Jody M. Tanner
“Blue Hour Moonrise”
Flagstaff retiree Jody M. Tanner was prepared for the chilly January evening in her coat, ski pants, snow boots, beanie and photographer gloves when she captured this surreal photo of the moon rising in the clear sky behind the San Francisco Peaks with her Nikon D810. Tanner, who has been shooting professionally for 10 years, used an app called PhotoPills to locate the moon rising over the mountains. “Winter photography is not usually as engaging as other times of the year,” she says. “But this photo shows the pink glow that the peaks often get at sunset.” Find her work at jodytanner.com.
1ST PLACE WINNER!
Frank Caserta, M.D.
“McDowell Mountain Sunrise”
Scottsdale ophthalmologist Frank Caserta has been exercising his love for visual arts since he was a teenager. With a Nikon D810 and tripod in hand, Caserta ventured to McDowell Mountain State Park in June to stake out the perfect vantage point for capturing the desert’s flora and fauna. Despite a nearly fatal interaction with a rattlesnake, Caserta stayed true to his vision and caught a gorgeous candid. “I love ‘magic hour’ photography,” Caserta says. “Particularly for the opportunity to capture images facing the sun that create dramatic backlighting.”
“Kayaking the Salt River”
As a semi-retiree who’s fond of early mornings, Gilbert’s Cameron B., who wishes to keep his last name private, used his Canon R8 to capture the beauty of the Salt River – a popular spot known for water activities and its relaxing streams. B. noted the unseasonably cool temperature and morning light on a gorgeous June day made the busy kayakers on the river worth capturing. “You’ve got to be an early riser to get to your spot before the sun rises,” he says. “Sometimes it all lines up, other times it doesn’t. But when it does, it’s magic.”
“Route 66 Sunset”
Tucson’s Charles Spilman, an instructional designer and semi-pro photographer of 30 years, captured this “chronicle of life” on the historic highway using his Panasonic Lumix on a trip to Seligman. He was waiting for the sun to set so he could capture the neon motel signs aglow against the dark sky, but before the sun set, the “vibrant post-monsoon sky almost seemed ablaze,” so he took several pictures of it, too. In this photo, Spilman hopes to convey what Route 66 represents: “a homage to tradition, but still strong and vibrant today.” Find his work on
Instagram at @losventanasphoto and at losventanasphotography.com.
“Welcome to Phoenix”
Ed Caudill, a retiree from Phoenix, nearly “ripped the pocket off” his pants when he grabbed his iPhone 14 Pro to photograph the dreamy sunset from his perch inside a plane at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. After photographing the setting sun on his descent into Phoenix, Caudill closed the window shade because the sun was too bright. When the plane landed and he opened the shade, Caudill was amazed by a “color that seemed unreal.” The perspective was particularly striking. “It wasn’t like you were looking at a sunset off in the distance, you were in the middle of the sunset,” he says. Find more of his work on The Arizona Bucket List page on Facebook.
“ASU Golden Hour”
Semi-pro photographer Jeff Luth is currently based in Massachusetts but lived in Scottdale for more than two decades before relocating during the pandemic. Luth, who has been shooting for more than 20 years, worked at Arizona State University in Tempe for several years. He didn’t think the sunsets from the parking deck at the Fulton Center were anything special until the College Avenue Commons was built in 2015. Luth says the building “is clad with materials that transform downtown Tempe into a photographer’s dream.” He captured this stunning photo in October 2015 with a Canon EOS 6D. “When the sun is low in the sky, the soft, glowing light helps almost anything look its best,” Luth says. Find his work at luthphoto.com/jeff-luth.
“The Mittens at Sunset”
Amateur photographer Todd Peterson has been taking pictures for years. Monument Valley has always been a bucket list destination for the Cave Creek native, so he and his partner headed there in September 2018. While booking their accommodations, they decided to splurge on a “Mitten’s view” room at the View Hotel, where Peterson took this picture depicting a phenomenon that only happens a few days every year at the West and East Mitten Buttes. “We had no idea that the sun would be the perfect angle to create a shadow of one Mitten on the other one,” Peterson says. He took this photo – in which the mittens appear to high-five one another – with a Canon PowerShot. “Sunrise and sunset are terrific times to take photos and videos,” Peterson says. “We’re lucky to have enough time to travel and visit places of natural beauty that lend themselves to magic hour photography.” Find his work on TikTok at @cccooker.