The Color of Light in Photography

A ship, now no more than a rusting hulk, lies in a bay near the city of Ushuaia in the far south of Argentina. The orange color of the ship is illuminated by the gentle sunlight and is a striking contrast against the predominantly bluish light resulting from gathering storm clouds.

Rainy Days Are Not Grey

It’s a myth that rain-bearing clouds are grey. They are actually blue in color. This photo, made off the coast of Ushuaia at the very bottom of Argentina, proves this point. Let’s examine the facts.

The Color of the Light Effects the Color of the Subject

The color of the foreground rocks and grass, as well as that of the rusting ship in the background, look pretty much as you would expect them to. That’s because they are lit with gentle sunlight.

However, the distant mountains are shaded. They are not lit by the sun, but by the sky above. The distant mountains are blue because they are reflecting light from the clouds above, many of which are blue in color.

Why The Difference in the Color of the Clouds?

The white clouds do not contain rain, the blue ones do. Rain bearing clouds are not grey. They are bluish in color. Why don’t most folks know this? Because they don’t believe it to be true their brain’s actually white balance (i.e., neutralize) the color of the light.

This is just one example of how the way we perceive the world is not, in fact, reality. Said differently, we make our own reality.

How to Look at Photos

The subject matter within this photo is interesting. It allowed me to explore the theme of environmental damage in an otherwise remote and relatively pristine environment.

But, in addition to that, this image is very much a study of color. It explores the color of certain subjects, and their relationship with each other, and also of the variation in the color of the light, across the landscape.

Color Elicits an Emotive Response

I think there’s an interesting interplay between the positive feelings we would usually associate with sunlight and the color orange, compared to the more melancholy feelings often associated with the color blue.

There’s different ways by which we can perceive and photograph the world. As a consequence there are many ways by which we can look at a photo. The more we look the more we are likely to find. And that’s a great reward for someone who looks that much more closely than the average Josephine. 

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru