The graceful sweep from golden hour to blue hour of crepuscular light, to the last traces of twilight and then darkness appeals to a camera eye in many ways. Physically, the iris must relax (or does muscle contraction open the iris and lack of contraction leave it stopped down?) to permit light to reach the optic nerve. Psychologically, much of the pell-mell of daylight work has left off and the overall experience is slower and quieter than in broad daylight. Socially, there is less visible scrutiny of one’s appearance or status markers. But what about speaking aesthetically: why should one’s eye be attracted to the extremes of pitch darkness and faint light shading into the bright beam of a given source of light? All of a sudden it occurred to me that something very like the oil painters’ 16-20th century still lifes has a similar appeal: it is the play of point source light (rather than diffuse, indistinct illumination that gives the delicious touch of light upon surfaces, textures, tones and shapes all arranged artfully with plenty of dim or darkness to contrast the subject.
So next time you find yourself wondering why a night-time scene tugs your heartstrings, or makes your photo trigger finger itching to snap some shots, consider the oil painters’ still life by comparison: ask yourself if something similar could be happening now in the wider spaces of a night walk or a glimpse out of one’s window.