Early-Evening Colors

SUNSET on the beach: Funny little birds with long beaks and longer legs look for dinner in the advancing tide; the waves rear up in an odd, mountainous array; and the wind ruffles more than feathers. We can't tell just by looking at the picture, but it was a cool summer evening on the Oregon coast two years ago when Monitor staff photographer Robert Harbison captured this scene.

Harbison is an Oregon native who started taking nature pictures in the early 1970s. His hobby turned into a profession when he became a news photographer in 1978. But he never lost his love for nature.

``Nature photography is more reflective than news photography,'' he says. A news photographer must always be on his toes, ready to snap that important moment. But nature can make one pause. Harbison never tires of photographing nature.

It's obvious, too. The sunset colors are so warm, the horizontal lines so strong, and the birds so small, but fascinating. He points out that if the birds weren't there, the colors would still be beautiful, but the image would not hold the viewer's interest.

``This particular shot is not a novel idea,'' Harbison says. ``But there is something about this image that is still nice to look at. Part of what really makes the picture, of course, is the light and the time of day. The sun had just dipped below the horizon. There is a window [of time] 15 minutes before sunset and about 10 minutes after when the light is just unique. Even cinematographers will often choose to shoot early morning or evening because the angle of the sun is more dramatic and the colors are warmer.''

The irony, he says, is that the shots he wanted to take didn't turn out. ``I had a tripod set up and a 600-mm lens on the camera. I wanted to get a huge sun and was hoping maybe a boat would cross in front of it,'' he says, laughing, ``and of course none of that ever materialized. But as I was walking along the beach, I saw the birds and started grabbing these shots - which really turned out better than what I planned.''

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