The temperature of light

Oftentimes I find myself obsessively absorbed in a thing and, although she will claim to have issued an invitation, look up to find myself abandoned. When she returns I will ask, Did you see any nature? She usually begins with a prognostication regarding the coming change of season, and continues with lists of song birds seen and heard, tentative track identifications, and suppositions concerning animal behavior. She will end by saying something about how much better she feels for having had a walk and that I should have come along.

Sometime last week her report was appended with description of a find so significant that she took a picture of it. I found a beautiful fungus, she explained.  Where, I asked, for I am always suspicious that her discoveries may be a mile or more from the house. Up the hill, just beyond where you were the other day.

Yesterday was mild, with broken clouds. She guided me to the spot and I spent an hour or so appreciating her magnificent bracket fungus. She circled around, the long way, took the dog home and hiked back up. We walked home together.

Later, I noticed that the images I had taken fell into two tidy categories. One was a set of dramatic images, taken in the shade of the hemlock upon which my subject was growing. These showed the specimen in shadow and colored in muted tones of brown and yellow. The second set was dazzling, taken in direct sun, and showed the subject displaying a range of striking color. I thought about showing you one from each set. Because they were so different, I wondered whether you might think I had over-processed one or the other, or both. I didn’t want you drawn to the conclusion that I had created these effects and considered posting just a single image. This morning I decided to post both and to assure you that neither was overly processed. Both the images look very much the way they presented themselves in the finder and their differences are due entirely to the nature of light which illuminated them.

Imagine that you heat a thing white hot.  You will know from experience that, as it cools, it will emit electromagnetic radiation in the visible spectrum. First red, and orange, and ending with yellow and blue. We refer to this energy as black-body radiation and to the thing which emits it as a black-body radiator. Although the sun may be considered a black-body radiator, the differences in the quality of light we see can be attributed entirely to the scattering of light as it travels through the earth’s atmosphere. We all know that the light of a cloudy day looks different from that which we enjoy on a sunny one. And the lights of morning, noon, and evening have different character. The feel of light is all a matter of which mix of wavelengths ultimately impinge upon your retina, or the sensor of your camera.

So, this all leads me to explain that the differences in the images presented are due to the nature of the light which illuminated them. The first was taken in shade. The light was muted, cooler, and bluish. The second was taken in sun which shone through broken clouds. That light was warmer and revealed a rich spectrum of fungal pigment.

I hope you may appreciate both of these mycological portraits.



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