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Monte Fitz Roy, Patagonia (Argentina), 2005
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II, 100mm macro lens 1/25 second @ f11, ISO 800, tripod, no filter

Reality isn’t always what people want to see. What they want to see is what they expect to see. And people expect to see white snow. Even when it isn’t really white.

Years ago in the days of film, Kodak and Fujifilm were the main competitors, at least here in Australia (Agfa was very popular in Europe). To my mind, Kodak films were closer to reality, while Fujifilm had enhanced colours. You’d choose the film that was best suited to the job.

Interestingly, both manufacturers claimed to produce natural, true-to-life colours and I think that’s because photographers believed they wanted to capture reality. However, if you compared the films side by side, invariably people would go for the photograph with the richer, punchier colour, even though it was not as realistic. Apple understands this, based on its screens which are rich, contrasty and colourful, everything that reality is not!

The mountain opposite is Monte Fitz Roy, which sits above the small border town of El Chaltern in Argentina. Access to the surrounding national park is relatively easy and you can hire guides and porters to take you up and camp for a few days. In fact, if you weren’t carrying a heavy camera bag, you could easily walk up to this location and back before lunch. So, remote as it seems, we were camping only a fifteen-minute walk away from this lookout.

Most photographers dream of shooting the ‘alpenglow’, the rich golden light before sunrise that turns mountain ranges into coloured jewels. However, I was quite happy to work with the softer blues and violets, contrasting them with the distinctive red walls of Monte Fitz Roy and its neighbouring peaks.

When I first exhibited the photograph, the snow was a little on the blue side. This is the ‘real’ colour of the snow from this vantage point and at this time of day, because the only light reaching the snow is from the blue sky above. However, we all ‘know’ that snow is white and so when many people looked at this photograph, they expressed their concern that the snow didn’t look natural!

Removing the blue wasn’t a big problem – a hue/saturation adjustment layer using the blue channel, and a mask to limit the correction to the snow and glaciers, without affecting the sky, was all that was required. The vignette was added in gradually with a series of layers to disguise the transition. It is stronger than what would be attempted in later years.

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