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Treebeard's Stumper
24 January 2003

Sunbeams and God Light

We call it God light or sunbeams. The official name is crepuscular rays. That's a harsh name for those beautiful lines of light that sometimes radiate across the sky from the sun hidden behind a cloud, often at twilight. Sunlight travels 93 million miles to Earth in nearly parallel rays, so why do these visible light beams suddenly seem to fan out across the sky above us? The sky is full of light, so why don't we see sunbeams all the time? I always try to photograph these light rays, but my photos rarely capture them. What is the best exposure setting for my semi-auto digital camera?

 

Santa Ynez Mountains, 26 August 1999
 

Santa Ynez Valley, 19 December 2002

Surf Beach, 29 November 2001
 

Knapp Castle sunset, 30 August 2002

San Marcos Pass woodland, 23 July 1998
 

Are the last two photos the same effect or something different? I didn't notice the sunbeams when I took these pictures, and the photos where a pleasant surprise. Where else do you see sunbeams?

I should explain that my Olympus 2040Z digital camera has fully manual exposure and focus control, along with aperture- and shutter-priority modes. That was one reason why I bought it. But I usually use the "program auto" setting. This still gives me exposure control because there is a target in the viewfinder that I can position anywhere in the scene before I press the shutter button halfway down to lock that exposure and focus. Then I can move the camera to frame my shot before pressing the button all the way down to actually take the picture with the remembered exposure. It makes a big difference where I point my camera when I lock the exposure. I can also push buttons to deliberately under- or over-expose. This works much like my beloved (long ago stolen) Nikon FTn "needle match" camera. I usually take lots of photos and hope for a keeper, and digital shots are free. I always forget what I did, so what's the best way to deliberately get a great photo of sunbeams? Where should I point my camera when I lock the exposure?

Another stumper: I've been looking for paintings with crepuscular rays. My first thought was Medieval or Renaissance religious art, but I haven't found a great example. Help!

Answer


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Copyright © 2003 by Marc Kummel / mkummel@rain.org