Saturday, April 21, 2012

Magical light effects

Horsetail Fall is a seasonal waterfall on the eastern face of El Capitan in Yosemite Park in California.

For a few days each February, the setting sun lights up the cascade with a bright orange illumination that makes it look like it's on fire.

It's hard for our brains to process the phenomenon as anything other than fire because there aren't enough contextual cues showing the same sunlight on other surfaces.

When you want to create weird and magical evening light effects in painting, it's good to keep this balance in mind: on the one hand, you want the light to be precious and rare, but it has to touch enough different surfaces to give it some context.

One artist who pulled this off beautifully is the American orientalist Frederick Arthur Bridgman. In this magical evening scene, the main subject is lit by a cool dusk twilight, which diminishes as the draped figures recede into the tree shadows. 

We see pinpricks of candles here and there, with just a hint of their glow on the white structure in the middle ground. The warm accent light in the left foreground touches the folds of different fabrics of the woman's costume, as well as the flowers.

He makes the bold choice not to show the source of the light itself, just its effect. The light effect really works because he was careful to set up large areas of mysterious darkness, softness, and shadow in the rest of the picture.

The painting is called "FĂȘte of the Prophet at Oued-el-Kebir (Blidah), 1889.
See more paintings from this era at the blog Underpaintings. 


Janet Oliver said...

One of my favorite paintings that includes the magical light effects is "The Annunciation" by Henry Ossawa Tanner. I saw in person at the Philadelphia Museum of Art a few years ago. I was floored.

Deborah Secor said...
Loved this video of the light changing on Horsetail Falls.

JasmineTanner said...

thanks for sharing this! thats one kewl waterfall!~


Great photo. I'm old enough to remember being in Yosemite when they would still build huge bonfires and push them off of El Capitan in the summer evenings. They eventually banned them in 1968 or 69 I don't remember exactly (it was the 60's man.

bill said...

I was going to write the same thing Armand. Still fresh in my memory.

en_b said...

That photo is so awesome.
I love how the Snow and silhouettes of the trees on the top of the falls get so flat and painterly.
Far out!

Patrick Jensen said...

Thank you! I really enjoyed this post.

chutkat said...

Hello Mr. Gurney~
I Just wanted to share this picture of a rainbow reflected on a tornado? Maybe the tornado's water drops reflects light to create another rainbow?
Photo: here

source: here

Would you happen to know why is this caused?
I would love to know to apply this on art! :)

James Gurney said...

Chutkat, Somehow I'm suspicious whether this photo is real. The funnel looks too transparent, the whole day looks to pretty, and the coincidence is too convenient. Please prove me wrong!