Thursday, June 28, 2012

Shadow Focal Length

I don’t remember consciously noticing that shadows have what you might call a “focal length,” until a few years ago.

This 18th-century Epergne by Thomas Pitts I is in the
Folgers Collection at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
I was enjoying a long, detailed look at the intricate baskets and trays of the amazing 18th-century Thomas Pitts I Epergne at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, when I became fascinated by its shadows.

Some of the shadows, cast by lower parts (closer to the surface on which it stood), were dark, sharp-edged shapes. These shadows clearly showed the multitude of intricate openings (they appear to have been blurred and softened in the official photo published online).

The taller parts, however, cast paler, fuzzier shadows. I never realized shadows had depth of field, I thought. The piece is a beautiful and amazing tour de force in its own right, but that day I was even more entranced by the shadows.

Leaves from different levels on the tree cast sharper or
blurrier shadows depending on their distance from the street.
I’ve since had an opportunity to notice this effect in other places, most notably in the shadows of trees in my neighborhood when I walk my dogs.

It’s been so hot lately that I’ve taken to walking after dark, when it’s cooler. The streetlights on the leaves create a very similar effect to the one I remember observing at the Nelson-Atkins, and I managed to get some photos.

PHOTO CREDITS: The image of the Thomas Pitts I Epergne is courtesy of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, MO. The photo of the leaf shadows is by Jan S. Gephardt, taken in June 2012 in Westwood, KS, and may be distributed online under a Creative Commons license, providing it is not altered and credit (preferably with a link back) is given. 

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