For most of Earth’s several billion years, the night was a time for stealthy, quiet movements by night predators and prey. Other animals, creatures of the day, hunkered down until the return of the light. During the short history of people, our ancestors were the hunkering down kind of creatures, until the invention of fire began to push back the blackness to the cave entrance. Now, fast forward a million or so years, and we drive fearlessly for long distances through the inky depths, thanks to headlights, taillights, neon signs, stoplights, billboards, streetlights, and lights in businesses welcoming us inside. We think of this as normal, but it was not a widespread part of human life until we entered the prior century.
For this series of pictures, created during an early evening drive from Shelton to Bremerton in the Puget Sound region of Washington, I wanted to capture an impressionistic view of the lights along the way. This was a night of torrential rain, which caused flooding throughout western Washington. But with all the puddled and pooled rain on the roadways, it was a beautiful night of lights reflected off pavement.
I set my digital camera to a high ISO setting, enabling me to fire the camera without agonizingly long exposures. I set the lens on autofocus, then steered the vehicle with my left hand while taking pictures with my right hand through the wet windshield. When I later described this to my wife, her first reaction was: “Do you want to die?!” Well, no. And I can’t recommend this as a safe procedure. But I wasn’t looking through the viewfinder during any of the moving exposures, so my eyes were still on the road. Autofocus and autoexposure took the place of my normal fussiness about photography and, without looking through the viewfinder, careful composition took a backseat to instinct. The exposures ranged from perhaps half a second to maybe eight seconds (I couldn’t check while driving), and I bracketed to some degree. When stopped at a stoplight, I was able to get some photographs while quickly composing through the viewfinder.
When I got to my destination, I quickly downloaded the 100+ photographs and was pleased with the results. My favorite pictures, shown here, have a hint of impressionism and vividly portray the gaudy colors that greet us when we venture out at night.
And, no, I don’t intend to do this again (at least in the near future), so you can feel safe on the roads, as long as you realize that the oncoming high-beams may hide a cell phone user, drunk driver, text messager, GPS follower, makeup applier, video watcher, face shaver, or some other modern multitasker behind the wheel!
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Click on the photographs below for larger versions with captions.