Matt Bentley
CS 99D: The Science of Art
Assignment 3: Light & Shadow

Peculiar Optical Effects Captured on Film
(based on Light and Color in the Outdoors by M.G.J Minnaert)


This project presents an assortment of photographs demonstrating peculiar optical effects caused by the interplay of light and shadow with our perceptions. This topic is explored in-depth in M.G.J Minnaert's Light and Color in the Outdoors. As Minnaert himself writes in the preface, "The phenomena described in this book are partly things you can observe in everyday life, and partly things as yet unfamiliar to you, though they may be seen at any moment, if only you will touch your eyes with that magic wand called 'knowing what to look for'."

Minnaert's innovation is to explore and enhance our understanding of how light interacts with our natural environment simply through very attentive observation, rather than relying on scientific instruments, theoretical principles, or formal study. The photographic medium lends itself nicely to documenting these kinds of observations. The photos included here are of two types: First are photos that I have taken specifically for this assignment, to directly illustrate one or more of Minnaert's Optical Effects. These photos clearly show the phenomena, but they generally are not the most exciting photos in the world. I have also included photos from my personal collection that exhibit unusual light and shadow phenomena. Over several years of shooting photos for myself as well as various publications and organizations, I have amassed a collection of some-thousand odd photos. For this assignment, I decided to look through all these old photos to see if I could find evidence of any of Minnaert's phenomena inadvertantly captured on film. The result is some very interesting perspectives on light and shadow phenomena, including much that was not documented in Minnaert's book, but raises interesting observations on the behavior of light and shadow nonetheless.

Choose a gallery below to begin exploring the photos!