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For many digital photographers, color is a given. Virtually all humans see the familiar spectrum of colors, and because they are constant components of human eyesight, it’s easy to understand why both amateur and professional photographers take them for granted. In many cases, the reason is rather simple: most people spend most of the 24-hour day indoors, living in and viewing a world that is illuminated by artificial light sources. There are certainly opportunities to take interior digital photography with dramatic and dynamic colors; but life’s real colors are found outside and lit by the star we call the Sun.
Because color is always a part of your life, a photographic fact that startles most photographers is that the peak color of any scene or object lit by sunlight is only evident for approximately 60 seconds. There is no guarantee that those 60 seconds will be today or tomorrow. The optimum peak color of a red barn door may only happen for 30 seconds on a Tuesday in July, and at no other time of the year.
This is why capturing great color in your digital photos takes a considerable amount of persistence and a willingness to take the time to look carefully for interesting color compositions, and then wait for those peak color moments. Neither the most advanced optics nor the manipulative power of Photoshop can shortcut the process. It’s your power of observation, the development of your photographer’s eye and the calm patience of a monk that reveal the colors that very few others see.
One of the methods you can try to be more observant of color is to forget about being a portrait, nature, candid or sports photographer. Instead, be a color photographer first. Be less concerned with the scene or the objects in your viewfinder and concentrate more on discovering how color defines them. The colors of a pristine flower garden don’t deserve any more of your time than the vivid spray-painted colors used by an accomplished graffiti artist and displayed in an urban cityscape.
Because peak color conditions occur when they do and not for your convenience, you must be willing to adjust your schedule, so you can be there. Not only is peak color available for a minute or less, but also it’s most likely to happen 15 minutes on either side of sunrise and sunset, and then during twilight, which is from after the sun disappears to total darkness. If you’re willing to shoot digital photography during those short time periods, then you’re sure to capture images that very few other photographers have.
That means waking very early, especially during the summer months, so you arrive at the location you’ve picked by 4:30 am, be ready to shoot by 5 am, and then wait for the sunrise period at approximately 6 am. The same commitment applies to sunset. Schedule your dinner earlier or later, so you’re in position for the equivalent 6 pm period, and the twilight that follows. Just because you’re there at the right time doesn’t mean you’ll take interesting digital photos. Many sunrise or sunset periods don’t render any opportunities, which means you must be willing to try again and again. Even during those non-productive shoots, you’ll begin to learn the signs of a great photograph that is just about to happen.
Read Part 2 of this PhotographyTalk.com article for additional tips, especially the techniques that will help you find the colors that most photographers don’t see.
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