Light is the Source of Color

by Joe Bridwell

“Light, not Objects, is the Source of Color!”  Isaac Newton, c 1700

…by Dawn’s Early Light

Here is dawn at two famous New Mexico landscapes; White Sands and Bosque del Apache. But, where is the white sand and blue water? Yes, your eyes are working properly! Yes, so was that danged camera! So, why such visual confusion?   Magic Hour I must admit – I’m much fonder of shooting dusk at Magic Hour then dawn! Yet, so much of photography is all in the luck of the draw. OK, if you ain’t there at the right time you cain’t get such truly awesome fine art imagery!

That said, it’s all about light and color. The simplest image of how light truly affects color is Lavender Dawn. The foreground is simple; it’s just sand dunes at White Sands, New Mexico. But, as you read that sentence, doesn’t an alarm go off in your brain? Did you say, “White Sands New Mexico?” Clearly, though sand dunes are not white; their lavender, just like part of the sky! Let me repeat Newton’s famous adage “Light, not Objects, is the Source of Color!” 

So what’s with this light? The simplest way to explain it is say direct light is usually pink to orange. Indirect light is usually bluish. Or here, lavender. The sand dunes, which normally appear white during daylight, were shot at dawn. The sun simply hasn’t come up over mountains in the background. So sunlight is indirect. And, from the bluish indirect light we have Lavender Dawn…   Well, looks like I’ve shot another Magic Hour dawn in Dawn’s Cacophony! Yet the visual light story here is quite different. It is Magic Hour, but the sun is above the horizon and imparts the same color thru most of the picture. Instead of just dunes and light, there is a truly significant impact from clouds and birds. Clouds are between the sun and birds. Clouds absorb much of the sun light. Flying birds become sharp black silhouettes. Sunlight adds another infectious element; clouds reflect in the water! Every bird, whether afloat or in-flight, blocks sunlight to create that sharp black silhouette. The reflections soften each clouds lighting effect.

Lavender Dawn

Dawn’s Cacophony

My eye quickly assesses watery foreground and flock. It’s static…

Then, my fantasy leaps in. I’m absorbing true impact of many different bird shapes flying across yellow-to-ocher clouds. A bird’s wing is limited to only a few positions as it flies. Yet, the marvelous panoply between an instantaneous bird image and vari-colored cloud/sky grabs me by the throat. I truly love this scene…

In future tutorials, we’ll show you a more exhaustive way to test which of 15 luminosity masks you want to use as you listen to the image speak of its different needs.

If you would like a copy of this tutorial as a free eBook, please send us your email request.

Prerequisites: Lightroom, Photoshop (CS5, CS6 or CC), TK_Actions, a working knowledge of layers, masking, and channels.


Here’s clear, exciting visual proof; you really can create superb fine art with skillful application of luminosity masks.

Each image supports Newton’s theory. Each image tells you about different aspects of light. As you learn how the image talks about its unique light, you also learn which mask to apply to create just that fine art your eye recalls.

We didn’t use a great deal of luminosity masking on either Lavender Dawn or Dawn’s Cacophony. We chose to downplay the strongest vestige of any direct sunlight. In Lavender Dawn, we chose to slightly enhance Make It Glow to give the entire image a pinkish cast. In Dawn’s Cacophony, we chose to add passion by enhancing cloud edge contrast so that subtle contrast could interplay with each flying bird.

We’re at a point where we can begin to show you how to apply more complex tone mapping CFAM techniques. As you learn luminosity masking, each image will speak of its unique light. You’ll learn to employ other luminosity mask methods to help specify and enhance particular aspects from that image.

As Paul Harvey said, “And now, The Rest of the Story!

Stay tuned for more clear descriptions of luminosity masking as we dig deeper.

Let us hear from you about Luminosity Masking and how it might add to your skillsets?

Would you do this work with a different workflow? How do you use LM to enhance more complex images?

We look forward to interacting with you…

Please comment and share with other interested fine art digital shooters…


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About Joe 

Photographer, author, teacher with enhanced skill creating Award-Winning Photos. Joe uses Luminosity Masking and CFAM-Creating Fine Art Magic for his work!