Smoke and colour balance

Just about everyone in Australia is now familiar with having to live in and breathe this type of smoke. The 2019-20 bushfire season is a horror.

The scale of the destruction of bush and agricultural land, let alone hundreds of buildings all around the country is impossible to estimate with any level of accuracy. Add to that the human toll and it's hard to comprehend.

The smoke has been visible on satellite photos, and it’s even spread as far as New Zealand.

I took this photo while walking in my local park. The smoke was particularly bad that morning, and the smell was unavoidable. That's the bush going up.

Of course, above all that, the sun was shining. That morning we'd been greeted by a lurid sunrise. It was filtered so heavily the sun was easy to look directly at - not that I lingered, I've been well conditioned not to look at the sun.

Of course, I can't help thinking in terms of photography, and on the way home I noticed the shadow I was casting seemed to have a blue tinge. I thought that was odd, as the smoke is effectively a red filter.

I think it was because my brain had become accustomed to looking at things illuminated by red light, and where that light wasn't falling appeared blue by comparison.

This is what cameras and colour processing software does too. You can alter the colour balance on your images by adjusting a slider. The photo I took was taken with an iPhone, which has an automatic colour balance, but if I'd used my DSLR and shot in RAW, I probably could have figured out the exact colour the smoke was filtering.

What’s more, using Photoshop, I probably could have rebalanced the colour in the photo to compensate for the colour of the light. Of course, no amount of Photoshop can make it look as there’s no smoke there at all.

It’s undeniable.