Workshop: Getting to the right place at the right time

Crocodile hunting in Darwin

Crocodile hunting in Darwin

This photo was taken in Darwin in July 2012 during a crocodile-hunting expedition with the National Parks and Wildlife Services. I’ve picked out this photo because, if you want to capture such brilliant colours naturally, you have to play a very smart game of being at the right place at the right time. Anything less would have to be faked through Photoshop (believe me, I know: I’ve done it).

One of my favourite things about this photo is the brilliant orange hue of the sunrise in the horizon.

How is it done?

It’s said that the most amazing colours of the sunrise are caught during “magic hour”, the very first hour of sunlight. For me, it begins when it’s still pitch black, and the sun is but a faint red hue in the distance. Over the next 20 minutes, a long-exposure will capture incredible shades of blue, yellow and orange, punctuated against the prevailing clouds in the sky and the landscape you’re shooting against. The window to capture these colours closes as quickly as it begins, so you have to go in prepared with the kind of shot you have in mind, the right settings and he right gear.

If you’re wondering why the colours are so amazing at this specific time of day, you’ll have to go back to your highschool science textbooks: it has to do with diffraction, because all the molecules in our atmosphere have similar properties to a giant lens. When sunlight hits the Earth’s atmosphere, the colours in the spectrum (due to their differing wavelengths) will behave differently based on the angle of approach. This is, incidentally, why the sky is blue.

By the same reasoning, sunsets are also spectacular to capture, though the colours are slightly different due to the Doppler Effect. I’m not going to try explaining that one – you’ll have more luck watching Big Bang Theory or listening to an ambulance siren as it drives by.

This specific, brilliant hue of orange, however, isn’t possible anywhere south of the Tropic of Capricorn (or north of the Tropic of Cancer) because it is one of the Earth’s most direct points of contact with the sun. This photo hasn’t been enhanced at all, so there’s a certain satisfaction I take in having captured this moment “naturally”. But if you see colours like this in a photo taken in Sydney, Europe or the USA, you’ll know it’s been doctored.

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One thought on “Workshop: Getting to the right place at the right time

  1. Pingback: Workshop: Wait for it… | idiot.with.camera

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