The word reflection is usually used in reference to reflections on wet surfaces… but light is often reflected from other surfaces as well. In nature, this phenomenon is most obvious when light reflects off surface with smooth textures – such as sand, snow, salt, or mud. I took the image below just before sunrise at Mesquite Dunes in Death Valley National Park. Notice that the sand is reflecting the rich red and orange light from the clouds. Clouds and humidity will influence the color and intensity of the reflected light.
After the sun comes up, the color of the light usually becomes more golden. I took the next shot on another morning – this time, just after sunrise. On this particular day scattered clouds allowed the sunlight to come through and paint the dunes with an intense warm light.
I took the photograph below at mid-day under blue skies. As you might expect, the dunes in this image are reflecting the white midday light. The scene looks very different at noon than it does during the golden hour.
In many cases, your camera’s automatic settings will try to “correct” these natural color casts. Camera algorithms are set to determine a neutral base point, and to adjust the other colors accordingly. You can get past this annoying problem by paying attention to colors when you are shooting – and setting your color balance manually. Those color casts are real and beautiful! Don’t let your camera (or automatic settings in your processing software) make decisions about color balance for you!
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