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Pastel Light

Movement and Light in the Dusk Forest



My tripod broke just after New Year’s, 2012. At that time, photography for me was a medium of sharp focus. I wanted to feel the surface of things in my photos. Taking pictures without a tripod seemed like an oxymoron; the images were never crisp enough. A broken tripod was the equivalent of a broken camera. They sat side by side in a corner at home.

Later that year, Liz and I decided to hike one of our favorite trails, Jug End. It was fall, and the autumn leaves were an equal mix of oranges, yellows and greens. I decided to charge up the battery and bring along the camera, if for no other reason than to document the striking mix of color. 


Jug End is a loop. We usually head left to start, which brings you immediately up a gentle slope, held in by a rich canopy of trees. As the canopy ended, I turned around and, walking backwards without stopping, took a few shots of the leaf-covered trail we’d just walked. Path is the first of those shots, unedited and unmanipulated.


This single image literally changed the way I thought about photography, and established a new course for me as a visual artist. The introduction of movement and blur into a photograph of the natural world evoked many of the aspects that I loved in the paintings of George Inness and Odilon Redon and the pastel work of Degas and Wolf Kahn. I had inadvertently introduced a painterly feel to what I had always regarded as a literal, sharply focused art form.


Over time, I began trying to refine and control the accidental camera movement that made Path so successful, utilizing longer exposures (typically one to three seconds) and low-light (preferably dusk), light that I began calling Pastel Light. I continued walking while shooting, but also began exploring simply moving the camera - gestural movements dictated by the setting and scene at hand. Dusk light allowed me to keep the shutter open for enough time to make these movements apparent in the captures.


There was a specific quality I was after. I wanted to hide the direction of movement as much as I could (no hot light trails or obvious streaks), and I wanted the end result to feel just like a pastel drawing… a blending of actual substance with the softness of pastel. And I wanted a perfect capture… no cropping, no post processing (excepting a little contrast or subtle exposure adjustments). 

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