gathering light – stygian

stygian – dark, gloomy, infernal or hellish

venice_castello_©James Newton Photographs
©James Newton Photographs

We are probably all familiar with the term ‘stygian gloom’ to describe a certain type of darkness. Thick and all consuming, only traces and outlines are visible within. Stygian is of or relating to the river Styx (In Greek mythology, Styx is a deity and a river that forms the boundary between Earth and the Underworld or Hades).

C16: from Latin Stygius, from Greek Stugios, from Stux Styx ; related to stugein to hate.

Dusk = 6:57 PM

There is a point on a clear evening with a crisp blue sky when everything seems to be in harmony. Calm and serene yet vibrant at the same time, an electric atmosphere hangs in the air for a short period, a merging of darkness and light. The lighting on the buildings is seen in balance against the remaining blue light of the sky and the city seems especially alive. This is why I enjoy dusk; photographing lighting projects is why I spend a lot of time waiting for it!

Regent Street, Lighting by Studio-29

If I google ‘dusk’ it says 6:57 PM Friday, October 7, 2016 (BST), Dusk in London, UK.  All very precise, according to this dusk will be happening 33 minutes after sunset.  Wikipedia then tells me that Dusk is actually short for ‘Astronomical Dusk’, or the darkest part of twilight before night begins. This is part of a whole sequence of events that lead from day into night – sunset, civil twilight, civil dusk, nautical twilight, nautical dusk, astronomical twilight and then astronomical dusk all occur before ‘nightfall’.  Time measured against the course of the sun.

Minute changes in light level, angle of sun and colour of  sky are what we will see as this process unfolds, this is one of the times where we can most vividly experience the minute by minute changes occurring around us. Flux in action – visible.

The following images (Lower Regent Street, lighting by Studio-29) illustrate an exercise in recording and viewing these changes. When seen together they allow us to observe the balance shifting within the scene; the sky darkens and the emphasis drops onto illuminated windows, traffic on the street and building facade lighting. As one aspect of the city dissolves another appears.

Lower Regent Street_Sunset_0
Lower Regent Street_Sunset_+5
Sunset + 5mins
Lower Regent Street_Sunset_+10
Sunset + 10 mins
Lower Regent Street_Sunset_+15
Sunset + 15 mins
Lower Regent Street_Sunset_+20
Sunset + 20 mins

My rule of thumb for project photography is sunset +20 minutes, this is usually the time I can start taking the photographs.  Pre-planning will allow me to have mentally ‘set up’ a number of images and then it is a race against time to try to get them all done during dusk.

All of this will depend upon the project, the local environment, the level of artificial light, the amount of sky that is visible in the image, the weather, cloud cover and what is happening at the location.  So there are many factors that will help me to decide when I am going to take the photographs but ultimately it just feels right at the time.

gathering light – nocturne

nocturne – a gentle piece of classical music/a piece of music especially for the piano that has a soft and somewhat sad melody/a work of art dealing with evening or night.

SW11_Thames-Fog_©James Newton Photographs
©James Newton Photographs

The term ‘Nocturne’ was made famous by the painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler.  The aim of his Nocturnes is to convey a sense of the beauty and tranquility of the Thames by night. These pictures, specifically of the Thames at Battersea are “evocative of the night or subjects as they appear in a veil of light, in twilight, or in the absence of direct light”.

The word ‘nocturne’ was first suggested by Frederick Leyland, since it conveys the sense of a night scene, but also has musical associations. The expression was quickly adopted by Whistler, who later explained, “By using the word ‘nocturne’ I wished to indicate an artistic interest alone, divesting the picture of any outside anecdotal interest which might have been otherwise attached to it. A nocturne is an arrangement of line, form and colour first.”

gathering light – gloaming

gloaming – the part of the day after the sun has gone down and before the sky is completely dark.

267_Landscape_Summer-2230_©James Newton Photographs
©James Newton Photographs

I first heard the phrase ‘the gloaming’ from the Radiohead song of the same name. Like the song, the word has a real sense of foreboding about it, darkness is coming.

It sounds very olde worlde and does indeed come from the middle ages. The roots of the word trace to the Old English word for twilight, “glōm,” which is akin to “glōwan,” an Old English verb meaning “to glow.” In the early 1800s, in Scotland the now-archaic verb gloam, meaning “to become twilight” or “to grow dark” was in use.

“…this is the gloaming.”

gathering light – grimlins

grimlins – the first or last gleams of daylight

267_Landscape_Summer-2215_©James Newton Photographs
©James Newton Photographs

Grimlins is a word I first came across in a book called ‘Outrun’ by Amy Liptrot. Using Orkney Islands dialect in places there is a glossary of terms and definitions to help out us foreigners.  The word grimlins is used to describe the midsummer night sky, which up there means not dark, an eerie light hanging over the landscape, I imagine it as not dissimilar to moonlight from a bright full moon but bluer, a bit spooky.  Other evocative images are conjured up by haar (a sea fog) and lum reekin (chimney smoke).

In Praise of Darkness



Recently I spent a few days exploring Naples.  Sometimes this meant getting up before dawn so that I could be out on the streets before sunrise, those were the hours, or rather minutes, during which these photographs were taken.  The street lighting starts going off ‘at dawn’ like it would in any city as it is starting to get light then, but in the old town where the streets are tall and narrow this is not the case as what little daylight there is does not penetrate.  This meant that for a short while the streets were dark, really dark.  The only illumination came indirectly from doorways and windows, long stretches were pitch black.


Technically ‘unsafe’ but actually not a problem to walk along the streets were very beautiful, what is lost in light level and uniformity is gained in atmosphere.  Living in London where it is not possible to find conditions like this it was a rare treat to experience darkness in a city, it was only a few brief moments but it is one of many things I love about being in Naples.


Here are some more places by night………….