I flew to and from Salt Lake City within the last few weeks. As I planned, I got a window seat to take photographs; there I found an infinitely variable, ethereal subject. Clouds, the nice puffy ones that dotted the sky created beautiful shadows down below, and through the openings in between them I could see and photograph them, clouds and their shadows. Most of the time I used my Canon G7, modified for infrared, which gave even more penetrating views of both the clouds and the shadows they cast. I took altogether over 300 photographs during the flights, mostly cloud shadows but also great views of natural and man-made shapes, forms, textures, and the abstract, fractal-like world they created. At the end of this post, you will see a small collection of these photographs.
Shadows can be extremely powerful components of photographs, they evoke different feelings and convey different meanings. Philosophers from Plato on, perhaps even from the earlier time have used shadows as metaphors and written about them. They are indeed fascinating, now I am planning to acquire and read Seeing Dark Things by Sorensen. The more I thought about the cloud shadows the more special they have become for me. Cloud shadows are unlike any other shadow we normally see. In fact, photography is as much about the shadows as it is about the light reflecting off surfaces. Yes, sometimes the shadow may be so diffuse, so soft we may think that there is no shadow. Make no mistake about it, if light strikes an object it must cast a shadow, no matter how soft or diffuse. What distinguishes the cloud shadows from the shadows of most objects we see around us (including our own shadow of course) is their continual change and eventual disappearance. I do not mean the disappearance of the shadow only, but also, and more emphatically the disappearance of the object that casts the shadow along with the shadow.
Cloud formations have purely random patterns, size, shape, and density. Therefore, to begin with, the shadow they cast has a random shape. The surface upon which the shadow is cast, and thus becomes visible, also has random shapes, terrain, texture, and reflectivity. The intersection of these gives birth to infinitely variable shadow shapes. Additionally, the clouds constantly change, they move over terrain, grow, shrink, get thinner, and eventually disappear. It is this continual flux that makes the cloud shadows ethereal and special to me. Of course, in the long run, everything changes and eventually disappears, shadow and all. But we rarely get a glimpse of this phenomenon as it routinely occurs in the cloud shadows, often without anyone noticing and perceiving their special qualities. Now, they give me a wonderful feeling of seeing something magical, something fleeting, something joyous, something to celebrate.
Next time you see a cloud passing over, try to be aware of its shadow and fleeting nature. I think you will find it at least fun, if not outright wonderful.