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Bathed in Crimson, Half Dome from Sentinel Dome

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 2 May 2010 in Landscape & Rural and Portfolio.

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.

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Thanks for visiting. Even if I don't respond, your comments are always read and appreciated.

MK from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

wow, wonderful colors n compo

2 May 2010 5:52am

Dulcie from Danville, CA, United States

Monumental scene, magnificent sunset, beautiful combinations of colors and textures. I'm glad you were there to catch this sunset for us !!

2 May 2010 6:25am

Tamara from Aarschot, Belgium

Just beautiful... That sunset is amazing and what a light !!!

2 May 2010 8:17am

KriKridesign from Cully, Switzerland

FIRE!!!! lucky, happy witness show you were! This is marvelous...

2 May 2010 9:50am

Julie from Easton, United States

What a beautiful shot Gary! The colors are awesome and the composition is just outstanding!

2 May 2010 1:30pm

Daniel from Kenmare, United States

I didn't see sunset color to compare with this when I was there.

2 May 2010 1:38pm

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

It's too bad that with the advent of something like photoshop folks all seem to assume that now all digital photos are "manipulated". It's kind of sad because it is photographs like these that inspire me to go out and chase the light myself....It's often frustrating and tiring, but when the incredible light happens (camera ready or not) I can't help but believe that the world is an amazingly wonderful place-and on a personal level these have been the times that I feel closest to God.
Maybe through seeing and reading your post more people will abandon their skepticism and get out and experience the light and magic for themselves. :)

2 May 2010 3:08pm

KriKridesign from Cully, Switzerland

I'm ignorant about argentic treatment, was it also possible to manipulate aspects and colors of a picture?
I don't know much about argentic procedures...But For me it seems that the difference betweeen to strong and inapropriate post treatment in digital procedures and natural exceptional light is clearly visible...
Don't worry, your capture is wonderful.....I would love to assist to such a sunset ( or sunrise, I never know wich is for what time...!!!!!)

2 May 2010 3:24pm

Phil David Alexander Morris from Saskatoon, Canada

It reminds me of the power Ansel Adams photos had back when they came out.

2 May 2010 5:39pm

Phil David Alexander Morris from Saskatoon, Canada

It reminds me of the power Ansel Adams photos had back when they came out.

2 May 2010 5:42pm

Mayukh from Bangalore, India

excellent color.

2 May 2010 8:57pm

Julie Brown from Indianapolis, United States

Gary, the sky is spectacular, of course, but your composition is what allows this image to elicit an emotional response in the viewer. I suspect that the skeptics who doubt that this color is "real" are usually the same people who have no idea what it takes to get images like this. Would they be willing to miss dinner and hike up there and wait for the light, as you do? Do they observe every nuance of weather events and store that information for further use? Do they follow the seasons, the phases of the moon, and the tides? Most of us don't pay that much attention because we don't have to. The saying that great images are "made" not taken, becomes a lesson learned only when the rest of us try to replicate this in post-processing, and fail miserably. Thanks again for the philosophical discussion of your process. I really enjoy it!

2 May 2010 10:14pm

PD from Overland Park, Kansas, United States

Wow - this is fantastic. One of those rare special times, and you have captured it perfectly!

3 May 2010 3:22am

Magda from Vancouver, Canada

Wow! Spectacular! I don't know why but it brings back some images from the movie "Lord of the Rings"

3 May 2010 5:58am

steve loos from hollister, United States

Spectacular series of images Gary.

3 May 2010 3:12pm

Brian Young from Charlotte, NC, United States

Great work as usual. I look forward to seeing your images everytime they are posted.

3 May 2010 5:23pm

Mike Cirella from United States

Beautiful natural colors Gary. I witnessed a brilliant crimson and orange sunset a few weeks ago on Cape Cod while photographing some osprey nesting near the the beach. It was a stunning red sky that lasted only a few minutes. Of course, there was no Half Dome or weathered pines to add drama like your image, but the naturally saturated reds, oranges and yellows knocked me over.

Interesting that the subject of 'honesty' or 'integrity/credibility' in photography came up in your post. A similar thread occurred just days ago in David DuChemins blog regarding a surreal-like landscape image he created while visiting the coastal village of Camogli, Italy. He used a Singh-Ray Gold-NBlue polarizer and an ND grad to fit the range of light into the image. That raised a lively discussion about 'honesty'. Go to if you want to read it.

Keep those amazing natural images of Yosemite coming.

3 May 2010 8:24pm

=imagine= from Los Angeles, United States

Beautiful rendition of a vision experienced. It is what it is. A photographic capture to evoke an emotion, to record a moment in time. Those are separate conversations. Film versus digital, is another. Reality is yet another. Scale of latitude on a naturally processed film stock, is another. Range of the digital program used is still, another. The simply reality is, film is film, it is natural, it is exposed by natures radiation called light. Type of film is irrelevant. Digital exposures thought they are captured by your "direction", you leave the actual "exposure" to a series of artificial binary codes to determine, what the end product will bill. That, is another reality, and that is not natural. Photography is an art form, true. Whether you use a shoe box with a sheet of Kodak paper inside, or use a hand held camera, or a Panovision movie camera. You create a visual. But one must not confuse nature, with artificial. A purest photographer searches for, and uses no extraneous elements of any kind. From pure air and water to pure primary colors from natures wondrous abilities, to the natural silver and Earths chemicals to produce a "pure" image. The other is a digital computer user working inside pushing buttons under electrical incandescent lamps. Is one better than the other? That can be argued along with the Big Bang theory and the existence of God. Does the answer really matter? I don't believe so. What matters is that the two fields stay separated and understood why. Also that natural photography never be allowed to be lost and replaced by the artificial life that mankind is getting to far used to and destroying the planet in the making for his "conveniences". Also, that in either case, you simply enjoy, and express, for others to share, for they are still, both, art forms.


4 May 2010 12:40am

@=imagine=: Well those certainly are some interesting opinions. Many would argue that numbers are more natural than chemicals, but if believing that film is more "natural" (whatever that means) than digital makes you a happier photographer, then I say go for it.

Self-Indulgence from Chicagoland, United States

I guess because the sky is so hot I get a very volcanic feel form this. Again you have impressed me with your skill and your purity of vision when you mention what can be achieved in photoshop but how what is out there is so much better. You are right. Still I have yet to see something this amazing though I really have seen great, and colorful tornadic skies. This is a good vision for me to go to bed to. Dream happy content peaceful dreams. Thanks for sharing!

4 May 2010 4:03am

Barbara Kile from Ft. Worth, United States

I've not seen a sky so dramatic - gorgeous comp and what a view! Almost feels eerie with the foreground trees and the dark dramatic sky. Nicely captured!

4 May 2010 1:04pm

Vitor Martins from Lisboa, Portugal

Beautiful composition, with great and strong colors and a nice sense of depth.

4 May 2010 10:11pm

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

this is one brilliant composition and a great example of waiting and anticipating the right moment to capture what you have envisioned beforehand! the colours are amazing and i often think that not enough photos reflect their true beauty and strength like your do... i do not shoot anything anywhere near as spectacular as this but sometimes i get asked as well what i tweaked in photoshop to get it looking like this... keep up your great work and don't worry too much!

5 May 2010 1:24am

Julie from Le Cannet des Maures, France


9 May 2010 2:33pm

john4jack from Corvallis, Oregon, United States

Exquisite. This has a Salvador Dali feel.

10 May 2010 9:26pm

Denny Jump from Easton, PA, United States

I am posting this 2 weeks later so you may never see it anyway, but I gotta say this. Your site is known as "Eloquent Images" and that is definitely an accurate description - this image is indeed one of the most eloquent examples of that. But as much as all of this is true, it is also so very true that your narrations and explanations are as eloquent and evocative in their own way as the images are themselves. Others have said it above in this posting, but the way you explain and describe and lead is a truly rare talent and pretty much unmatched as far as I have seen. Thank you so much!

19 May 2010 4:43pm

@Denny Jump: Thanks, Denny, I appreciate hearing that.

Claus Petersen from Herfølge, Denmark

Amazing sky, it really gives this image a lot of atmosphere.

27 Jul 2010 5:50pm

Robert from Hartselle, United States

I might have been a skeptic once, but since I started actually shooting in the periods surrounding sunup and sundown, I've seen the light! Great capture. Kudos to you for making it a point to gamble on being in the right place when the elements came together and winning!

23 Dec 2011 10:09pm