CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Chris Austin wants you to know a couple of things about this picture.
Yes, he tinkered with the color, contrast and clarity in Photoshop. No, that’s not a mash up of several shots. It’s just one. And yes, it’s real.
The rainbow. The storm. The skyline. All of it.
“We were actually out just looking for lightning shots,” says Austin, 43. “And it just popped up.”
Austin and his girlfriend, Eve Lane, never got any lightning shots. On Saturday afternoon, they drove to a popular spot for photographers, a field next to Isom Street just off Wilkinson Boulevard on Charlotte’s west side. They got a clear angle of the storm. The sun was low on the horizon behind them. The sky ahead was dark. The storm lasted 20 minutes.
At one point, they snapped a picture of Austin wiping off the lens. You can see the rainbow in the background.
The storm itself is actually northeast of uptown Charlotte. The white streaks bursting downward from the clouds are bands of hail mixed with rain. There are crepuscular rays, divine-looking beams of light that usually radiate outward when the sun is behind a cloud. In this case, they’re radiating out of the rainbow.
After he got back, Austin spent a half-hour enhancing the picture in a new beta version of Adobe Camera Raw. (Here is the original photo)
“It brings out the detail that isn’t there normally,” he said, explaining how the touches created an image that more closely resembles what you’d see in person with your eyes. “Some of the old-school guys might disagree with this sort of thing,” he said. “But I think it makes for a very appealing shot.”
Sometimes photographers use a technique called high dynamic range imaging, which takes a composite of several shots to create a picture that's more colorful and vivid. Austin didn't use HDR this time. The sun angle and dark sky were already too perfect.
Austin’s been taking pictures since high school. It’s not his everyday gig (He works in IT at Nascent Technology). He’s been steadily freelancing for the last 20 years. His work has picked up in the last five. He mostly takes commercial and industrial shots—a factory here, some real estate there.
A shot like this is what photographers dream about: That one moment where the light, the setting and the subject are perfectly aligned. They live for the photograph where everything is perfect.
Austin got it.
He plans on selling 499 copies of his picture (He’s keeping the first one for himself). And after a lifetime of picture-taking, it didn’t take him long to pick out his favorite shot.
“Actually, it’s that image you just saw,” he said. “You look at it, and you’re just in awe. You put it in an eight-foot print and put some light on it, and you’re just in awe.”
UPDATE: After being swamped with requests, Austin says he plans on creating a total of 1,000 metal prints of his picture. He'll still keep the first, auction off the last one for charity, and sell the rest. He'll also offer paper prints of the picture, which he says will be more affordable and not limited to a specific number. You can read more about how to buy a picture in this post at his website, chrisaustin.net.
A previous version of this story referred to the program Austin used to edit the picture as "a new beta version of Photoshop called Camera RAW."
Below is the original picture, before Austin cropped and enhanced it.