Light and air…

moody day in the valley

When I first started shooting (film circa 1974) I noticed something strange I hadn’t really noticed when shooting stills. The quality of light seemed different as I travelled. And at the time I thought it had something to do with air…which makes sense in an “I’m not a scientist” type of way.

My career with weighty news cameras began in California’s great Central Valley…hot and flat in the summer and a prehistoric rainy bog in the cooler months. Then (oh great day) I got sent to Mecca (every photog’s dream city of San Francisco) one day for a quickie and the air was…well, not like the flatlands. It seemed cooler, heavier, cleaner.

Over the past umpety-ump years I’ve been all over and sensed the same thing. Now part of this can be attributed to actual climate conditions. The air is cooler near the ocean…thus my perception that my film seemed cooler. The air in Oklahoma City seemed charged (and that was one charged story on Ground Zero of the Murroh Building). Not to mention the checker board weather that week. The air in Australia seems relaxed and mellow. The air at the top of Mt. Whitney in summer is thin and sharp (so was my video). The air in Moscow heavy.

Moods come with location…but terrain and how light bounces has part in this mystery.

The Central Valley in summer is hot (mid-90’s to 110). The land is flat and light bounces right back up at you. We were inside a giant nature-made umbrella with little in the way of shade. As progress (and a kazilliion developments, malls, buildings) has moved in, the quality of light has changed.

San Francisco is surrounded by water…which reflects and bounces in a different manner. Cooler, yes because the water is not the flat land of the valley. There are tall hills and taller buildings. There are cool vales. There is fog and there are clouds.

Each location has its own personality and light and air which contributes to the mystic (or not). It affects the visualization…how you see and shoot. What should you learn from this? Don’t take preconceptions with you. Breathe in the air, look at the light before shooting. And let the mood, like little cats’ feet, become part of you.

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