A Field Guide to Light

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That title contains some essence of what I’d like any potential photography book to be about. In some cases, the actual subject of a photo would be of most interest. But more often than not, it would be about the magic of a lighting moment–the light itself, the thousand different species of light–that come and go in this single small cleft of landscape and span of sky through four seasons.This grassy composition lies just beyond the maple tree seen here earlier this week. Both scenes become worthy of the time to capture them photographically because they both benefit from the very same early morning light, shifted so far south along the ridge in the summer months that the sun’s rays drop just there, just then.

I could create my own private Stonehengian calendar: a shaft of light at nine o’clock in the morning on the first day of summer will spill through the cleft in the maple trunk and strike the earth exactly here, the pasture grasses from must that angle. I could place a permanent marker on the spot to honor the light, the day, the year, the lifetime it marks.

And so it is for all the light that comes to Goose Creek. It is predictable, and it is so very transient and unique to each given moment and place in time.

To be honest, this shot of the grasses came from this day last June. This year, in the very same spot, the pasture has been cut and is only a foot tall now. But I know what I would have seen on this date in that exact place at 9 am when the sun came over the ridge so predictably. Except this June 28 is cloudy; the sky is flat-gray and somber with a thin fog lying over the stubble of pasture grass–its own kind of special light.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Beautiful light painting.

    There have been times in my life when a personal Stonehenge has resonated. It is probably exactly what you’ve felt on Goose Creek, that need to connect to place and be connected. The sun, the stars, the seasons all help connect you to where you need to be…If you’re lucky enough to have your eyes open when you find it, that is.

  2. Your mention of your future photo book got me full of anticipation. How’s it coming along? I haven’t heard a word about it in quite some time.