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Geronimo's Candlelight - Stuart Michaels


  • Naked Eye Gallery Farm Mews Hove, BN3 1GH United Kingdom (map)

Geronimo's Candlelight

A few minutes after sundown in California, when all the tourists have deserted the viewpoints, a rather beautiful thing happens. The sky glows softly, and then for a minute or two becomes the pure clean colour of rosé wine.

I call it Geronimo's Candlelight, because it is briefly astounding, and elusive - then gone.

But what better way than the still image to let us catch, and linger over it? It permits us to pore over a single instant and savor it to our heart's content. And what better places than the Yosemite National Park at sundown - or Death Valley, or Bryce Canyon at sunrise.

This is part of a time known to photographers as the 'Golden Hour,' when the extreme contrast of shadows on the land versus light in the sky briefly meet and agree. It's often the best time to take photographs, as the raking sun throws the land's undulations into clear relief, and the light is 'warm' and especially beautiful.

Yet within that hour, I have found that there is really only about three minutes when the balance is perfect - and those three minutes can happen at almost any point during the 'hour' because of variations in season, geographical position, altitude, weather, cloud, atmosphere, and many other factors - you just have to learn to see it when it comes and be ready. In the Grand Canyon, it can be as little as 10 seconds. Perhaps less. Sometimes it comes more than once - or not at all.

As a studio photographer, you control the light. But the landscape controls you! The sheer difficulty of that, both technical and social, is what attracted me to attempt the impossible – to get those magical three minutes down on paper.

I was trained as a scientific and commercial photographer in the 60's, by uncompromising ex-RAF instructors who felt that a professional 'operator' worth their salt should be able to turn their hand to any subject. They also taught me how Ansel Adams adapted the old science of sensitometry to coax his silver nitrate glass plates into recording the extremes of light found in the western US. My knowledge of that science still informs my digital photography, and I've long wanted to try my hand in Adams' Yosemite.

As a Brit, nothing prepared me for the sheer scale of the American canyons and desert plains, nor the way their astounding light behaves. I had to watch the rise and fall of light acutely and draw on everything I'd learned in order to see, and shoot, under Geronimo's Candlelight - and I've tried to honour the spirit of his homelands.

For every successful landscape photograph, there are many, many failures. Here are some of my successes. I hope you can find three minutes - or more - to look and enjoy.

Stuart Michaels, 2015

Earlier Event: September 16
NINE Exhibition
Later Event: November 1
ANIMAL Exhibition