Unnatural Color in Utah’s Arches National Park?

Tonight I read a review of my book that – on a whole, felt pretty good. It was written by Kyle Wagner of the Denver Post. You can read it here. In the piece, Ms. Wagner made mention of something that has been a common topic of conversation – not only in the numerous interviews I’ve given – but in many of the lectures and book signings I’ve given. That subject is digital alteration and while Ms. Wagner falls just short of actually calling it that, she did label some of my photos in the book, including one of the opening spreads of Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah, as “unnatural” in it’s contrast and saturation. One must wonder how well the book was reviewed as an entire page in the book was dedicated to discussing the strong use of color as well as my techniques for capturing it.

Since I was never invited to an interview by Ms. Wagner, I couldn’t comment or discuss this topic with her, however I’ve decided to post a graphic of my entire digital capture that evening in Arches National Park. As you can see, I stayed out until the very last of the winter light hit the arch. At first the color was boring – perhaps what many editors are accustomed to seeing. But as the clouds, haze and last light of the day moves in – you can clearly see the colors becoming more vibrant, full of shadow and contrast and truthfully – seemingly unnatural. It is exactly this reason why I spend so many late, late hours in the parks, often photographing far beyond sunset. It’s because I realize that almost always I’m out there alone, cold, tired but patient and unrelenting in capturing something that so many people miss because they pack it in early. I’m there to bring these spectacular colors that are natural into your home. As always, I’m happy to share my RAW files with anyone to share the moment as purely as it comes so you, too, can see what I saw that night and know that it wasn’t adjusted or faked or “unnatural.”

The final, circled frame was what was used in the book. Click the graphic below (screengrab from adobe bridge) to see a larger version of how the nights light took shape.


2 responses to “Unnatural Color in Utah’s Arches National Park?

    • I could write a book on this topic. That being said, my personal rules are pretty simple. If you alter something that adds or subtracts anything that was not in the frame at the time you shot it, you need to have disclosure. I think disclosure is paramount, even when it comes to color adjustments which could be extreme. In my book, I addressed my approach with a full page in the back called “technical notes” which talks about the gear I use and the processing of my images in the book. That being said, I choose to not alter anything, ever, except my levels (histogram levels) and a touch of saturation but usually not too much since it quickly distorts with digital. Obviously dust is an issue as well. I have altered images before for commercial applications and some of those are with my stock agency but in all of my captions I label everything as manipulated/digital illustration. When you are a photographer showing the natural beauty of something, there is a great deal of interpretation happening not only from the camera itself but from the creative eye of the photographer. It does a disservice though to alter those scenes, especially as a person trying to get people to pay attention to the importance of being outdoors. Because if you are faking it – then why even bother?

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