I am obsessed with light. It is a compulsion that consumes my attention throughout the day. When I enter a room I am reflexively gauging the natural light coming in through a window, the temperature of the artificial glow from a lamp, the direction of the source and its resulting shadows. Setting up and manipulating studio light combines both technical and creative elements that are equal parts challenge and reward. Having that control over light, and making subtle adjustments with finite precision, is a powerful experience. But whenever I look through my archives, the photos that always stand out the most are the ones shot with natural light. For me, there is something about natural light that can’t quite be matched in the studio. Soft light spilling through a window, harsh sunlight that is quietly reflected off a bright wall and softly falling across a subject, backlit silhouettes shot against a midday sun that would otherwise be the perfect time to put the camera away. Those are the shots that always grab my attention in a profound way.
We were sitting outside when the the light began to change. The smoke from the Yolo County Fire, the same fire that eventually left a 100,000 acre gash across the face of Northern California, was crawling across the summer horizon; the clear blue skies to the west swallowed up by the encroaching smoke cloud form the east. The summer afternoon transitioned from crisp blues and hard shadows to a dull flat light, and when the smoke finally covered the whole sky and muted out the sun behind it everything took on soft pastels of orange, pink, and red. During those later moments I grabbed my camera and started shooting some family and friends that were in the front yard - the sun had the ultimate diffuser on it, creating an ideal softness for some impromptu portraits.
The following evening the fires were still going hard. After a quick survey of Google Maps, I grabbed my camera and drove up to the top of Atlas Peak. On the ride up I could see the fires raging on the next ridge across the valley. The sun dropped. The smoke continued to stream west. And the rocky outcroppings, tall grasses, and scraggly oaks of Atlas Peak patiently waited their turns as subjects in the silent contrast of a natural aesthetic created by its own harsh destruction.