Smoke and Light

This iconic image of Grand Central Terminal, circa 1920,  is one of the great photos of all time — but it would be nearly impossible to shoot it today. Why? Smoking.


Particulate matter, aka smoke, has a magical effect on light, revealing its path in a beautiful way. Remove the smoke and there is nothing to diffuse the light. Yes, the light might still be lovely, but there is nothing in the air to trace its trajectory.

Photography has suffered for the health of our lungs.

Naturally, I was delighted when I spent a recent weekend in a smoky cabin at a Boy Scout camp. The atmosphere did nothing for my breathing, but for about an hour I enjoyed striking beams of light.

But alas, indoor smoking is rare these days — and seeing the light is hard to do unless you add your own smoke. In a world of digital rendering, it’s an analog effect that’s hard to fake.

But I’ll tell you what: you light up this cigar while I set up the tripod.

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