The absorption and resonance Raman spectra of cryogenically trapped photoproducts of oxy and carboxy derivatives of myoglobin (Mb) are compared and analyzed in an attempt to understand the structural basis for ligand specificity in hemeproteins. Pulsed and cw excitations over a wide temperature range are used in order to differentiate between kinetic hole burning (KHB), optical pumping of structural relaxation, and spontaneous relaxation effects. Using these techniques, we are able to correlate changes in the absorption spectrum (band III at ≈ 760 nm) with low-frequency Raman bands. Based on these correlations we are able to determine which proximal heme pocket parameters are participating in KHB and optical pumping phenomena. Differences in the spectra of the ligand specific photoproducts have revealed differences in the populations of conformational substates (CS) that participate in the geminate recombination (process I) at cryogenic temperatures. A model is presented that relates the ligand specific spectral differences to structural and functional differences in the bound protein. What emerges is evidence that Mb and hemoglobin (Hb) can differentiate between O2 and CO based on proximal control of the bond forming step between the ligand and the iron. © 1991.