Backlight: when white smoke looks black

During a recent 10 degree morning, sun shining on steam emitted from PPL’s Brunner Island plant looked white with the sun shining on it and black with the sun behind it.

The dramatic art is what my eye saw. However, if this photo was used to accompany a story about a coal fired energy producing plant, it might paint an unrealistic picture about emissions at the plant. Shooting the photo from the other side of the stack with the sun to my back would show white steam and a less interesting picture.

Smoke and steam can interact with light differently depending on how you view it. With the photo below, the dark blue sky, the sun creating rim light around the steam and my exposure because of the direct sunlight blasting though, turns what was viewed as white steam into black smoke.

It’s helpful to explain a photo in the caption when interpretation can affect how an image is associated with a story.

This photo was used to illustrate a cold morning.

On a 10 degree morning, PPL’s Brunner Island coal fired plant emits white steam but because it is backlit by the sun and so dense it looks dark. YORK DAILY RECORD/SUNDAY NEWS – PAUL KUEHNEL

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A picture may be worth a thousand words, but there is often more to say about a great photograph. The York Daily Record's award-winning visual staff offers a peek behind the lens and into the process of capturing, editing and publishing their most interesting photographs, video stories and more.
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