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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Seeing The Color

Override your DSLR’s auto features to photograph colors that your eye may not detect

During a recent trip with a friend in the Blue Mountains of Australia, we hiked from the Wolgan Creek to an old train tunnel known as the Glow Worm Tunnel. I didn't expect to photograph much on this walk, with the main objective being to have a look around and to show Michael, my hiking partner, a view of the Wolgan Valley. But I did bring along some photo gear so I could shoot photos near the tunnel entrance. I brought a tripod, headlamps and my Nikon D800 DSLR with a 16-35mm ƒ/4 lens.
Today's auto white balance is excellent and can compensate for different light balances as quickly as our own eyes. This is both good and bad. The good is that 98% of the time the color balance in a scene is rendered in as natural a way as possible, and it's instant; we don't have to mess around with a bunch of filters anymore. What's bad is that our photo eye is no longer trained to detect errant colors in a potential photo scene.
But once I was standing just inside the tunnel entrance, my photo eye could "see" that there was some insane natural green light illuminating the darkness. What caused this was sunlight filtering through a jungle of massive green ferns just outside the tunnel opening. To the naked eye, there wasn't much to see, and it appeared that the tunnel walls were coated in green lichen. But I knew the color was 100% from the fern-filtered sunlight. To photograph this wild scene, I walked 100 meters into the tunnel until the only light was dimly reflected on the right wall. I placed the camera on the tripod and set the white balance to 7140K, the ISO to 800 and ƒ/4 on the lens for a 30-second exposure to a RAW photo file. Michael was really patient to stand still for the long exposure as I light-painted him with my headlamp.

The resulting photo is dominated by the green light that glows in this surreal scifi-like scene. No tricks, no Hollywood lighting—just the ability to "see" the color potential in the scene and then override the auto color balance of the camera to make the final image.

To see more of Bill Hatcher's photography, visit www.billhatcher.com.


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