Springuary: Days in the Key of Warm

The last few weeks in San Francisco haven’t been wintry, not even California wintry. It’s common for us to take a break from rains at this time in late January and early February — call it “Springuary” — but this period has been exceptional.  Many days have actually been summer-like as I’ve walked in Golden Gate Park, preparing for my fall show at the SF Botanical Garden. A winning combination of sun and rain have produced sumptuous blossoms in the City, and none more spectacular than the magnolias at the SFBG. Even when the warm sun sets, the magnolias glow at dusk.

In slideshow order, these are the images: 1.Sierra Redwood, SF Botanical Garden;  2. Japanese Maples, Japanese Tea Garden;   3. Yulan Magnolia (with pink magnolia bokeh background), SF Botanical Garden;   4. Warm sunny mid-day at Stow Lake;   5. Great Blue Heron at Waterfowl Pond, SF Botanical Garden;   6. Torrey Pine sunset, SF Botanical Garden;   7. Pink tulip magnolias at dusk, outside Friend Gate of SF Botanical Garden.


Light, Shape, Trade-Offs, and a Windermere Dusk

At its root, photography is “writing (or drawing) with light.” That’s why there is no end of photography websites and businesses that incorporate the word “light” into their names. We live in a golden age for photography, with a dazzling and dizzying array of tools to sculpt light in the most minute and sophisticated ways, both in camera and in post-process.

Yet for many of us, the draw of images from the earliest days of photography is still strong. And our love for these images comes not from paternalistic patience (“Ah gee, they did such a good job considering their limited tools”), like one feels for a two-year-old’s first crayon scribbles. No, it comes from true appreciation of powerfully used light and shadow, shape and composition. Our brains seem wired to respond to these basics, as much as they do to fine details, elegant mid-tones, or creamy-smooth gradations. It’s as if we’re responding to buried memories of our first infant days, of the swimming swirl of blurry light and undefined shapes that welcomed us to life in the scarily wonderful world outside the womb.

The two images below (click to enlarge) were captured at dusk, near Orrest Head in Windermere, in the U.K.’s Lake District. My lens was a “travelling trade-off” lens. That is, it had great zoom range, but this range was packed into a compact form which — though excellent for international travel —  came at a price of high digital noise and decreased sharpness in low light. Yet there is still light, glowing contrasty light; and the “noise,” when you transform the images to toned black-and-white, can even fill in for the lovely grains one found in film developing. Even a homemade pinhole camera can create affecting images, after all, and even so do I treasure the images from this “trade-off” lens.

Sheep, Dusk, near Windermere

Dapple, Dusk, near Windermere