I love the part of day when it is not yet light, but the full darkness is gone. Most people call it twilight, photographers call it sweet light and, painters refer to it as the blue hour, coming from the French expression l’heure bleue. When I found out that Swan Mountain Snowmobiling offered a “Blue Light Sunrise” tour, I had no other choice but to start my day early.
I met my guide Bryan Landis in the town of Hungry Horse, Montana, who gave me a quick lesson on driving a snowmobile. Then we headed up the road to Desert Mountain, where he promised we would be able to see up the valley into Glacier National Park if it was a clear day.
As we ascended the mountain, I asked Bryan to stop occasionally so I could take a few test shots to see how the snowmobile photographed in the early morning light. After looking at the pictures I realized that I needed to be careful to photograph Bryan and his black snowmobile away from the dark woods. If the sun didn’t come up and provide a little light to separate him from the background then he would appear invisible.
The sun teased us and disappeared for the rest of the morning. I saw a solitary track heading up to the very peak of the mountain and asked if we could go up there. Bryan gave me a funny look that said, “I’m not letting you take my snowmobile up there.” So, I walked to the peak where I cold separate the outline of Bryan and his machine against the snow and sky as he crested the hill.
Photo tip: Why is the picture blue? When taking digital photographs you need to choose the white balance setting that will make the colors look realistic. Different light sources cast different colors and our brain’s visual cortex filters these differences so we don’t usually notice. The camera doesn’t have that ability. I always shoot photographs in the raw format, which lets me choose the white balance setting later when I edit my photos. In this cast there are two sources of light: the very cool, blue early morning fog and the warmer headlight on the snowmobile. I chose to correct to the white balance of the headlight, which makes the rest of the picture look especially blue by comparison.