The effect of Light on Color in Photography

Northcoast Misc. SM12-1435
How do you get great color in nature photography? Three main factors contribute to color which I call “The Three L’s”: Light, Lenses, and Lightroom. First and most important factor is the quality of the light. When shooting outside, the quality of light is worst on a sunny, cloudless day at noon and best during the so-called “magic hour” which encompasses dusk or dawn and the moments during and after/before the sunrise/sunset. Consider the following series of photos taken in the evening at Moonstone Beach just south of Trinidad. Notice how the colors improve as the evening progresses to the inevitable sunset.

We begin about a half hour before sunset:

Northcoast Misc. SM12-1432

And then 23 minutes before sunset:

Northcoast Misc. SM12-1438

18 minutes before sunset:

Northcoast Misc. SM12-1449

About fifteen minutes before sunset something magical happens. It’s as if someone has turned a switch, releasing all sorts of stunning colors:

Northcoast Misc. SM12-1460

12 minutes before sunset:

Northcoast Misc. SM12-1462

And finally, ten minutes before sunset:

Northcoast Misc. SM12-1470

This effect can be somewhat duplicated by another lens, which was used to photograph panoramas:

Little River SM12 Pano 2

Little River SM12 Pano 5

Little River SM12 Pano 8

The fact that the color may not be quite as striking with the panos has to do with the lens used, the Pentax F 70-210, which doesn’t render bright blue as well as the lens used in the earlier set of images (the Olympus M. Zukio 14-42). But nonetheless one can get the idea of how light can effect, and more critically, improve, color.