We’re all familiar with the principle that warm colors advance and cool colors recede.
This picture of West Point from a few miles away is a good example of the way the warm colors tend to drop out in the distance, and the darks become progressively lighter and cooler.
But in wonderful, rare instances, the rule is reversed, and the whole scene gets warmer as it goes back. This happens when moist vapors or dust clouds hover in the air near sunrise or sunset. You have to be looking directly toward the sun to see it. The color of bright or white objects, like the sun itself, becomes increasingly orange-colored as it recedes, because the blue wavelengths are subtracted out of it. I took this photo recently in the Catskills--no filters or Photoshop whatsoever. The effect lasted only a short time.
This painting, called “Light on the Water,” from Journey to Chandara, explores this strange phenomenon. The foreground is actually cooler than the distance. The light of the setting sun spills out into the surrounding atmosphere, warming the outlines of the towers in the distance. The vertical bar of reflected light in the water melts the silhouettes of the boaters and swimmers nearby.
In my clipping file I have a folder of photos with a variety of atmospheric color progressions. Some of these might have been manipulated by filters or image processing. When I'm painting, I also refer to my own plein air studies, and if you're interested I can show you some more of those in future.
The Hudson River School masters Sanford Gifford and Frederic Church loved to work with the effect that I call "reverse atmospheric perspective." I believe they were influenced less by the sort of technical analysis of light that we're familiar with than by the vision of writers like Goethe and Emerson who expressed the poetic idea of light as a “consuming celestial fire” having the power, as Emerson put it, “to burn until it shall dissolve all things into the waves and surges of an ocean of light.”