The closing words of my previous post were, "most people forget how vivid color in nature can be." Birds, wildflowers, butterflies, rainbows, tropical fish, and on and on--all can display color that rivals what can be achieved with Photoshop's saturation slider.
Case in point, this sunset captured just a few minutes later the same evening (as my previous image) on Sentinel Dome. Of all the images I have, this one elicits the most skepticism. But as someone who pays close attention to such moments, I honestly don't understand. I mean, the way the vivid color spread across the sky was amazing, but the color itself was far from unprecedented.
When I arrived late that afternoon I had a pretty good idea something special was in store. All the elements were in place for spectacular color: a blanket of clouds overhead, a clear space for the setting sun on the western horizon, and an atmosphere washed clean of gunk by afternoon showers. One of the most common misconceptions about sunrise/sunset color is that it's better when there's haze in the atmosphere--the reality is actually the opposite; if you don't believe me, just think about when or where you've seen the most vivid sunrise/sunset color: after a storm, in the desert, at the beach--all clean air environments. If haze were a contributing factor, we'd be touting Los Angeles for its sunsets.
So anyway, as I mentioned in my previous post, that evening I anticipated great color and set out in search of compositions before it happened. What I didn't anticipate was the breadth of the color. Usually the most vivid sunset color is isolated to a relatively small area of the sky, but on this evening I watched the color expand and intensify until it filled the sky and painted the entire world red.
I can count on one hand the number of times I've seen horizon-to-horizon color like this. When it happens I feel like the atmosphere is buzzing with crimson, and for about 30 seconds at its peak my entire world is red. I have distinct memories that evening of feeling the buzz in the air and looking down to see the hair on my arms standing up. Everything--the granite, the trees, my skin--glowed red. Something like this is impossible to capture with a camera, but if you look closely you can see the reddish cast to the surroundings.
I love color, look for color, and shoot to maximize color (slightly underexpose, polarizer to cut glare). But I opted not to adjust the color in this image to match my memory because, reality notwithstanding, I knew to do so would stretch the bounds of credibility. The fact is, at times I actually have to desaturate color because I know some people won't believe it.
I'm afraid digital photographers have earned much of the current skepticism through unskilled or manipulative post-processing. But the unfortunate byproduct is the doubt cast on all digital images, even those processed with integrity (I know we all define "integrity" differently, but that's a discussion for a different day). What's most annoying is the free pass film shooters get, as if there's an inherent purity to film--has everyone already forgotten the exaggerated color of Fuji Velvia?
This whole topic underscores the subjective nature of photography, and the futility of attempting to capture "reality." My reality that evening was far more than can be captured in a two dimensional, single-sense rectangle. But when I look at this picture the memory of that evening comes flooding back to fill in the missing pieces. Maybe the true power of photography is its ability to evoke a very personal emotional response that allows each viewer to replace the medium's missing elements with their own experience of the world.
* Website: Eloquent Images
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