Orchestral Pixels

A comparison of photography and The Phantom Tollbooth
I recently returned home from witnessing a spectacular sunset. I was driving south on the local interstate, so I couldn’t stop to photograph it, but I knew that somehow, someway, I had to take it in. I made my way into the right-hand lane of the three-lane highway, got behind the slowest car and took as many safe glances to my right as possible. I had to absorb the moment and etch a digital file into my brain. I occasionally looked left into the other three lanes of traffic and saw drivers oblivious to this spectacle. Did they just not notice it? Did they just not care? Did they just not get it? My only thought was one of irony. While nobody was slowing down to appreciate the color, they all would come to a crawl to rubberneck an accident or other bizarre traffic phenomenon. My saving grace was the hope that those with me in the right-hand lane were also appreciating the wonderment in the sky.

As the magnificent color of the sunset dissipated, its color brought me back to my days of teaching. I was reminded of a novel I had the advanced students in my class read. Dare I mention the fact it’s still one of my all-time favorite books due to its sophistication of wordplay and metaphors? The name of the book is The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster. So if you’re a photographer and you’ve stayed with me up to this point, you may be wondering—what the heck does all this have to do with photography? Read on.

In one of the chapters of the book, Milo, the main character, encounters a person named Chroma. Chroma was the conductor of the symphony. But rather than conduct music, Chroma conducted color. He played his best “music” at sunset directing the reds to play certain hues, yellows to play variations, oranges to become vibrant and saturated etc. So while I witnessed the sunset on my journey south on the interstate, all I could think about was Chroma conducting one of his best scores.

When Chroma conducts, there are ways to take advantage of his performance. Look for strong silhouettes offset against the color of the sky. The silhouette should have distinct shape and form unto itself. Combined with dramatic color, the combo becomes a winner. Make sure you’re on location at sunrise and sunset. This is when he offers his best productions. If you’re not there to “see” his music, you can’t capture the digital notes. Set the white balance on your camera to cloudy or shade to enhance the yellows. This can also be done when you process your RAW files. Additionally, move the Tint slider to the right to bias the tonality toward magenta.

Outdoor Photographer Tip Of The Week

While Chroma does his best work at the edge of each sunrise or sunset, he also has his hand in varying aspects of nature. Look for other colorful subjects he conducts. The male species of most birds are in their breeding plumage in the spring. It’s a great time to get out and capture them in their glory. Autumn has him conducting deciduous trees playing sumac symphonies. Chroma, being the person he is, adores photographers who aren’t adverse to supplement his work via the use of enhancing, warming or sunset filters. The next time you’re out photographing, watch for Chroma to play a masterpiece and have a listen.

Visit www.russburdenphotography.com


    The colors in sunsets and sunrises are my favorite things to capture as a photographer. I can relate very much to the driving incident or even just happening to look out a window at home and see the beautiful colors in the sky. It really makes me appreciate the beauty of nature, and makes me wonder how many other people are taking a moment to appreciate the same thing.

    You may think you were being safe but you were not. Taking your eyes off the road and taking photographs while driving is very dangerous. Why didn’t you just pull off to the side? Those drivers who were passing you and not looking at the sky were.driving a lot safer than you.

    Excellent article! Your account of how the colors of nature are disappointedly missed by the masses is spot on. I often feel the same way. I am also confident that your account of the events were more discriptive for writing purposes and were not an unsafe act. again, great article.

    “Seeing is the photographer’s inherent or trained ability to realize simple and complex shapes and lines that most viewers have never developed.” I, as a now retired forest pathologist, have taught myself to see things in nature that are astoundingly beautiful & interesting, but that others just pass by without recognition.

    Thank you for the inspiration. After I see one of our wonderful sunrises/sunsets (Arizona) I usually step outside and just watch the beautiful light play.

    I do wonder why so many drivers speed down the road and miss the beauty around them.

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