Light

Some mornings I should just plan to be late for work. This morning was probably one of them. While driving in, I kept getting distracted by how beautiful everything looked. No, I wasn’t high, it’s just that the light was so gorgeous that the most mundane, and even ugly, objects looked beautiful.

Perhaps I should explain. When you’re interested in photography, you quickly learn that it’s all about light. The amount, the color, the quality, the reaction of your film to it – it’s all about light. The ISO number for your film is all about light, go from ISO 50 to ISO 100 and you half the amount of light you need to make an image (aka, you can use a faster shutter or smaller aperture). Open your lens up one stop, e.g., from f/11 to f/8 and you’ve just doubled the amount of light reaching the film (f-stops go up by the square root of 2, but they related to the ration of lens diameter to focal length so the area of the lens doubles). Change the speed of the shutter and you affect how much light reaches the film. By working all of the doubles and halves, you can attempt to achieve the effect you want given the limits of the light you have. For example, when I shoot water, I often want a slow shutter speed which necessitates a small lens aperture. But sometimes when there is too much light, even the smallest aperture won’t get you a slow enough shutter.

Beyond the technical aspects of recording the light, the light itself has qualities. Mid-day sun is usually awful. The angle of the sun means that it passes through a minimum of atmosphere and very bright and harsh. Beyond that, the light during most days is bluish. You usually don’t notice this for the same reason your office florescent lights don’t look green – your eyes have a white balance algorithm that makes my digital camera blush. Your eyes adjust and present a normal looking image to the brain.

But this morning, the light was special. This morning we had a front come through, so there were clouds in the west and above us while the sun was rising in the east. No blue reflected from the sky. Plenty of atmosphere for the sun to travel through. A nice dark gray sky as background to all objects. The result was gorgeous, golden light. I could have sat for hours watching it on the trees, the grass, the ugly warehouses downtown. Everything it touched lit up.

You can get a similar effect when the sun sets as a front moves out. Clouds in the east, low sun in the west. The colors are slightly different, there is more red (see the picture below), but it’s still beautiful. Even on days when I don’t have a camera with me, it’s enough just to enjoy the light.

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