This was an interesting exercise not least because it made me notice more consciously and appreciate the differences in the quality of light and how it changes over the course of a day.
For subject matter I chose a nucleus box, a sort of compact bee hive, in my garden in which I am raising a new queen bee to start a new colony of honey bees. Partly this was purely pragmatic as I did not want to have to cover any great distance every couple of hours for the next shot. Also though it has some visual interest from the mix of materials and textures that are involved: wood, metal, rock, grass and plants, and tree bark. The box is facing roughly due south and so catches light throughout the entire day.
I had hoped to start shooting very early, not long after dawn, but practicalities such as having to attend first to my dog and chickens meant that this was not workable. I did though start before 08.00 and continued until after 19.00, by which time the sun was sinking behind a neighbour’s trees, cutting out direct light. All were shot using an 85mm lens (I wanted to keep out of the way of the bees flying in and out, though, as it turned out, they were not very active despite it being a good flying day for them – not very surprising as this set of bees had only been in the box for a few days and were just getting established) with ISO set at 100. The camera was set to Manual mode. To achieve a true comparison I settled one one viewpoint. I did not use a tripod so I worked around using a minimum shutter speed of 1/60s throughout, adjusting the aperture to match. As it worked out all but one of the pictures were taken with this shutter speed, the exception being the fifth one below, for which the shutter speed was 1/320s, no doubt because of the strength of the light at that time.
07.52, f/14, 1/60s
This early light was very sharp and clear. There was very little cloud and almost no haze. Shadows were strong though not sharp edged. Temperature was about 8.5°.
10.07, f/8, 1/60s
Just two hours later the temperature had gone up to 19° and there was a lot more cloud. The light as a result was a lot more diffuse and flat, the shadows were quite weak
12.00, f/7.1, 1/60s
By midday the cloud had thickened further but the light had become less flat so there stronger shadows. The change in the aperture though shows how the light was actually getting weaker as the morning wore on.
15.20, f/5.6, 1/60s
By mid afternoon the temperature had risen to 21° and the main layer of cloud (cumulonimbus?) was more broken but there was a lot more higher level cloud and the light was again quite hazy, and a little weaker.
17.32, f/5.6, 1/320s
Late afternoon and the sun is now behind the subject. By this time the sky was much clearer again and the light was quite strong again, casting sharp shadows. Although the temperature was now 22° there was less haze. The very much faster shutter speed came as something of a surprise and is an indicator of the relative strength of the light.
19.02, f/3.2, 1/60s
The sun was now falling below the top of my neighbour’s trees. It had again become quite cloudy and the light had become very flat again. I would best describe it as “milky”. The sharp contrasts and deep shadows of the previous shot had now gone. The steady decline in the strength of the light had continued until I had to decrease the f stop still further to 3.2, a far cry from the f/14 with which the day had started.
Was I surprised by the results? Not really. As Sally Mann comments in the interview referred to in the course material, there is a particular quality to northern light. It does have a particular clarity and sharpness, literally a lucidity, all of its own, and it is all the more striking when the temperature is cool. As there was little cloud early in the morning I expected the light to be at its best, and anticipated that it would deteriorate (if that is the right word) as the day progressed. I similarly expected it to strengthen again in the evening – sunsets in northern latitudes can sometimes be quite spectacular. If I was surprised at all it was by the fact that as time progressed the quality of the light deteriorated as much as it did. It is tempting to think of high noon being the time of the strongest sunlight but here at least it is not always so.