|The poppy image, Peridot Mesa AZ|
What is subtle light, anyway?
We all know what the converse is; the blatant, brazen images. Sometimes those are pumped-up photographs with little connection to reality which we love to hate. Other times, they might be misunderstood by those who are unfamiliar with the landscape depicted. The poppy image was featured on Outdoor Photographer Magazine’s Facebook page as photo of the day. One viewer commented only “too much Photoshop,” which I took to mean that the color seemed unbelievable. In fact, this image had only sharpening and spot removal applied to it. This is, in fact, what it looked like.
|Moonise over Cathedral Rock, Sedona AZ. There's not much that's subtle about this light.|
The commenter was from the Northeast United States. I’ve heard such comments from folks up there before, mostly in reference to the mind-boggling color of southwest sunsets on red rock. They just don’t have that there. Likewise, my southwest desert-based mind has to reset itself when I visit Central New York in the summer. Everything is bright green. Our brains are not able to process what they are not accustomed to seeing.
|A realistic depiction of Havasu Falls AZ|
One more example comes from an invitation I received from our local office of the American Lung Association to help promote Lung Force, a campaign which uses the color turquoise to draw attention to lung cancer in women. The local ALA people thought this image of Havasu Falls would tie the color campaign to our local landscape. I was very excited to contribute to this effort. Then I got a call; “National” didn’t want to use the image because it looked fake.
Sometimes nature really is brazen.
I've been giving this some thought since the Moab Photo Symposium last April. Open-hearted Bruce Hucko tossed an off-handed complement my way, saying that he thought I was good at portraying “subtle light.” I hope that’s true; I certainly do appreciate delicate light, though I’m hard-pressed to offer a sturdy definition. Instead, a couple of recent examples.
From Dead Horse Point State Park (UT), a subtle sunrise. Sometime we photographers are frustrated when clouds on the eastern skyline diffuse the first light. I love the pastel character here, though, and the fact that the quiet colors don’t overwhelm the setting moon that rewards the viewer who lingers over this one.
Marble Canyon area, the eastern portion of Grand Canyon National Park. This one illustrates the magic of diffused (by cloud cover) backlight. The canyon is as breathtaking in quiet times as in the brazen.
There’s more than one kind of drama.