Breaking the high afternoon summer sun rule and getting the “white raven” effect

So one of the “rules of photography,” especially nature photography, is you don’t shoot on a clear, bright, blue sky, summer afternoon with the sun high overhead.

So today I broke all those rules and got a shot I’ve been trying to get for some time–the “white raven.”

So what is a “white raven?”  One of my long-term projects is to photograph ravens in a “mythological setting.”  In Europe (and perhaps elsewhere) there are legends of a white raven. (I am not sure about here on the northwest coast, where the raven is sacred to the First Nations, so far I have not come across any First Nations stories of white ravens. If anyone reading this knows of a First Nation legend of a white raven please comment). For example, in Greek mythology Apollo is said to have turned the raven, which was originally white, to black,

Although there are rare albino ravens–this site has a photograph of a stuffed albino raven in Port Clements on Haida Gwaii–many scholars who study ravens and crows in nature and mythology believe that the legends of white ravens as messengers of the gods come not from the rare albino raven (which may not survive to adulthood) but when the black feathers of the raven reflect the sun and appear to be white.

I admit that looking for the “white raven” shot wouldn’t be a priority unless you are doing a project on the mythology of ravens.  It is also likely that photographers seeing the image would hit the delete button. I hope that this post would discourage deleting “white raven” shots that anyone reading this may capture in the future.

It was that “white raven” effect I was able to capture this afternoon, on a hot, clear, sunny Kitimat afternoon, actually in my front yard in the space of just over one minute, from 3:30:34 pm to 3:31:39 pm, using my carry with me always Sony Alpha 55, Sony 18-200, set at 200, ISO 1600, shutter priority 1/2000.

Ravens reflect sunlight

The pair of ravens are flying into the sun, and the bright reflection can be seen appearing on their wingtips.

As the ravens circle and come more under direct sunlight, their backs reflect the light, appearing white.

Ravens reflect sunlight

Messengers of the Gods. In Norse mythology, Odin had two messenger ravens Huginn and Muninn. Again the Eddas I have read don’t mention the colour of Huginn and Muninn, but clearly you can see how the reflected sun makes the raven look white.
Raven reflect the light
As the pair continue to circle, only a small white reflection is seen on the wing of the lower bird.

 

Ravens in flight

Here the pair appear in silhouette, dark against the sky.

Ravens fly over mountain

The compression of distance with the 200mm lens gives the impression the ravens are flying over a mountain peak.

Then the pair are lower, appearing to fly in front of the mountainside.

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