OK, perhaps surreal is a more descriptive and probably a more appropriate word than spectacular for the above image. But it was a spectacular thing to see. I was on a hike just outside Ilulssiat in Western Greenland. It was great fun, though the last part of the walk was physically grueling with steep hills and, on the final descent back into town, loose shale underfoot. Though that didn't stop me moving off the track for some great views overlooking Ilulssiat from above in the wee hours of the morning.
Is it really the way it looked or the result of some crazy exploration in photoshop? Comparing the image above to the original RAW capture is inappropriate. RAW images are inherently flat, unsharp and lacking color saturation. That's the nature of a RAW (original and unprocessed) file. It has to be processed before it looks any good, whether you take that to mean approaching one's memory of the original scene or a version that satisfies your own creative vision. Nevertheless, an experienced eye will see that the original RAW file does contain some pretty weird colors.
For those folks shooting with their camera set to RAW it's important to note that the image we see on the back of our DSLR camera is a temporary JPEG. It is a tiny, processed version of the original RAW capture. To produce this temporary file, which is automatically deleted as soon as you scroll to either the next or previous image, the camera has made decisions relating to sharpness, brightness, contrast and color reproduction. So what you see on the back of your camera does not accurately represent the RAW file originally captured at the moment the camera's shutter was tripped. It is simply the camera rendering one of many possible outcomes from the original RAW file.
I can tell you that what lay before me was a wondrous landscape and the moment I laid eyes upon it was very special indeed. The light was extremely soft and delicate and the colours surreal. The issue is more about saturation and the image you're looking at today is, like most other images processed on desktops around the world, higher in saturation than I remember it.
The exact hue (color) of the ice and sky is debatable. The ice displayed a heavy bluish color cast, whether that be, for example, an aqua or purple blue is academic. The same can be said for the sky. I could have rendered it more blue or orange. Either way the response from my audience might well include words such as interesting, unbelievable, beautiful, unreal, challenging and horrible. It is the nature of photographing in extreme climates where the color of the light produces what appear to be unrealistic results. And, given that we all see color differently and that the way we remember things, including color, is biased by a whole range of variables (including how we felt at the time) means that all that really matters is whether we and, where its important, our audience likes the final outcome.
What I can say is that the scene was beautiful to behold, but challenging to photograph. While drawn to the colors within the scene I had to try and make sense, an interesting composition, out of a large mass of ice and a weird coloured sky. The iceberg was quite some distance away, out in the bay, and required being photographed with a telephoto lens. In the end it is the range and contrast of colors that will determine the success or otherwise of this image.
I hope you like the image and, more importantly, the article to be of interest. It may prove helpful to some folks trying to navigate their way through the tricker waters of photographing in the digital age.
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Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru