Being an intellectual left-handed introverted single artistic socialist agnostic pacifist pool player*, who prefers stick shifts—and B&W—I've had to get used to being in the minority over the years, and it doesn't surprise me when I find I'm different from the mythical "typical/average" human in yet some new way. Still, it surprises me. I first got surprised by the "beautiful day" difference when I was in art school and trapped in the darkroom because I had to work. The radio was on as I printed, playing the Police** and Cyndi Lauper and R.E.M. and UB40 and The Smiths***, and one spring day the radio disc jockeys (the very term seems almost quaint in the Clear Channel age, more's the pity) kept going on about what a beautiful day it was and how "You have to get outside, it's gorgeous out there!", "It's such a beautiful day today!" et cetera ad libitum.
First of all, this was frustrating. Darkrooms don't even have windows, obviously. Shut up, shut up, shut up.
But then, when I finally did get outside, it wasn't beautiful—at all.
It's been difficult to calibrate over the years to the fact that when most people say "it's a beautiful day," what they mean is, hot. Hot with no other potentially unpleasant weather effects impinging. That long-ago allegedly "beautiful" day was in fact quite ugly: flat, hazy, dull sunlight, no wind, and white, featureless skies. But hot, without being oppressively hot. (Even T/A humans don't like it when it's 105°F/40°C.) I think that day it was something like 92/33°, which, apparently, '80s DJs thought qualified as "beautiful." Actually, to use the term of disapprobation we used to use as children in Wisconsin, it was gross.
As a joke, I started referring to that kind of weather as "no weather." If someone asked me about the weather on a hot day I'd sigh and say, with exaggerated sadness, "There's no weather at all today." No one else thought that was funny. Except me. (It's a good thing I amuse myself, is all I can say about my sense of humor.)
And flat, shadowless daylight I call "portrait weather."
Because of course what I mean by "a beautiful day" (and which I still think is logical, even after all my years of living among the human beings), is a day that looks beautiful. Weather that is visually attractive.
There's good rain, and bad rain; storms can be fantastically beautiful; fog can be beautiful. A vividly clear day is beautiful even if the temperature is 60/15°. Who cares if it's a little chilly? Not me. If it's beautiful, that's enough.
Anyway, we are coming up on one of the most beautiful times of the year in the northern hemisphere of the globe (and possibly it isn't too bad down under, either, as the transition seasons generally beat the extreme positions of the sun for beautiful light, but you tell me—the farthest south I've ever been is the Bahamas).
This time of year, it's important—well, more important than usual—to keep the camera of choice ready to go. That, for me, means fitting it with an RF/DC UPstrap and a wrist strap (this is the one I prefer), with a charged battery (as you might expect if you know me, I have an inordinately hard time keeping my batteries charged), and a clean card loaded and formatted. My house has a deficiency in that I've never found a handy place for a peg near the door. That's where the camera should hang, ready to grab on the way out. When I had my loft in West Chicago, the Leica hung on a lovely brass hook attached to the heavy wooden upright timber just inside the front door. You put a camera on or off as you come and go as I would imagine men in the 1930s put on their fedoras. (I like film noir, too, another minority taste.)
And now's the time of year I get to use my favorite joke—when someone mentions what a beautiful spring day it is, I say, "Yeah, these eight days are why we live in Wisconsin!" That one reliably gets a laugh. Local humor, maybe.
Anyway, be ready, and keep an eye out. This time of year, you never know when it's going to turn into a beautiful day.
*Pool is the least popular major sport. Technically there are fewer people who are into curling, but curling would overtake us if more places had ice. I am one of the 2,341 people worldwide who watches pool matches on YouTube as sport. Yes, smart one, you might find a pool match with more views than 2,341; but that is because some of us have watched it more than once to analyze the player's pattern play or stroke or bridge positions on awkward shots, in the way that piano students all sit on the left-hand side of the auditorium at concerts so they can catch glimpses of the pianist's fingerings. There are no more than 2,341 of us, take my work on it. And some of those are already dead.
**For instance their evil stalker song which for some reason nobody had the slightest problem with.
***Including the gayest song ever, and that's a compliment of course. Listen to the words—they're hysterical—and the arrangement and instrumentation is, as usual for the Smiths, utterly perfect.
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
James Symington: "This morning I got up before dawn to photograph bluebells in a forest about 40 miles southwest of London. I blearily got out of bed and looked out of the shutters carefully not to wake my wife and baby daughter. It was dull grey and a faint drizzle was coming down. 'Beautiful' was exactly my first thought but clearly I was unique in this assessment as normally other photographers would have been there for this spectacular display but I was alone all morning. Beautiful weather is definitely in the eye of the beholder too."
Paul Glover: "Seems that I am in general agreement with you on many things, but it's a relief to know that I'm not the only one who thinks that way about weather. As a black and white shooter nothing bores me quite as much as a flat blue sky. Might as well be overcast for all the good it does me. Give me big puffy cloud formations and an orange filter any day over hot and hazy, there is no beauty in that at all! My California native wife, of course, thinks I might be insane."
Tom Burke: "I understand that The Police's Evil Stalker Song is a favourite choice as wedding music...."
Yvonne: "Oh, am I ever with you. My major pet peeve is the 'another beautiful day' weather forecast when every plant in the world is gasping for moisture in the fourth or eighth week of a spring or summer drought that somehow nobody but farmers has even noticed."
Mike replies: Amen. Around here, a similar pet peeve is when weathercasters say that storms move "harmlessly" or "safely" out over Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan storms are famously vicious and hundreds of ships sit on her bottom—14 people died on the Lake last year alone—so anyone associated with people who are out on the Lake in a ship or boat certainly doesn't think the T-storms are suddenly rendered moot just because they've moved away from land.
paul in Az: "In Arizona we seldom get weather. All we get is temperature with clear blue sky."
John Krumm: "I know exactly what you mean. Here in Southeast Alaska our number of blue sky days is very limited, so people greet them with with enthusiasm, but when a high pressure system parks overhead and no clouds are seen for a week or more, I become creatively grumpy. I like to shoot in the woods, so for me perfect weather is a very thin cloud layer with a few openings, allowing soft but still distinct shadows and no harsh highlights. Nature's scrim."
Robert: "Seeing as how you asked, Mike, it behooves me to tell you. As a southern hemispherian, I can assure you that there is spring and fall. From my original home (Sydney—I now reside in L.A.) the seasons are semi-distinct with spring often characterized by warm to hot days, loud insects and occasional afternoon storms. You could apply that description to summer also, only hotter and humid.
"Fall on the other hand (which we call autumn) is the go-to season of the year. Glorious warm, clear days, cool nights, but little color changes because there are virtually no deciduous native trees. If you could bottle autumn in Sydney and sell it you would be a rich man. I think you would like Sydney in autumn."