True Colors

Montezuma Castle at Sunset

Getting a photograph of a landscape to look as close as possible to what the human eye perceives is a technical challenge. Due to the limitations of film or digital sensors, cameras are unable to capture the same range as the human eye. Often, one part of the photograph will appear either too dark or too light. In a technique perfected by IDEA Lab photographer Monica Saaty, this photograph captures the full spectrum of color and the tonal range of Montezuma National Monument at sunset. 

The image was taken during a visit to the monument when IDEA Lab photographers were photographing the museum's artifacts for the American Southwest Virtual Museum. The park typically isn't open during sunset, but they were lucky enough to be there on this beautiful summer evening.

The landscape photograph was shot and processed using HDRI or High Dynamic Range Imaging. HDRI involves taking the same photograph with a variety of exposures, a technique called bracketing. Images are then fused together in special software using a method called “tone-mapping.” HDRI aims to add more dynamic range to photographs, where dynamic range refers to the ratio of light to dark in an image. “Using image-editing software, I was able to more accurately represent the levels of light and colors in this scene,” says Saaty. “My goal was to make the photograph look realistic—like the dramatic landscape I saw.”

--Photograph by Monica Saaty, IDEA Lab.

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