Northern lights? Lava lamp composite? Sixties flashback? No, just a long exposure in the waining moments of a breathtaking Eastern Sierra sunset. Seriously, I did very little post-processing for this image (and I swear I didn't touch the saturation slider). The truth is, today's cameras possess an amazing ability to capture light and extract color the eye can't pick up. Most photographers, perhaps ignorant of this capability or unaware of the color that remains after their eyes no longer register it (or maybe just cold and hungry), go home far too soon following a sunset. This image was captured an hour and a half after the sun had disappeared behind the crest, and 25 minutes after the "official" sunset time (official sunsets always assume a flat, unobstructed horizon).
On this evening late last September my workshop group had enjoyed a spectacular light show behind Mt. Whitney, watching electric reds and magentas deepen to crimson before finally fading. Though the sky had darkened beyond our eyes' ability to register color, I decided to fire off one more frame using the sawtooth outline of the Sierra Crest (that's Lone Pine Peak on the left and Mt. Whitney on the right) to silhouette against the darkening sky. In manual mode I spot-metered on the sky behind Mt. Whitney, dialing my exposure to +1 over middle-tone. The long exposure was enough to wring the remaining color from the sky, but still not enough to raise the mountains much beyond absolute black.
As you can probably see, a fairly stiff wind was pushing the clouds rapidly across the sky, enabling the 25 second exposure to create a motion effect that I think enhances the image. But the most interesting thing for me is how closely the color in the image matches the color my eyes saw just a few minutes earlier. In other words, though the sky had darkened to my eyes, the color remained.
This image perfectly illustrates a point I frequently make in my blog and to my students: Don't limit your photographic objectives to your eyes' view of the world; rather, learn to understand and use your camera's unique vision. You'll be a more creative (and happier!) photographer for it.
* Website: Eloquent Images
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