Twilight Photography

A lot of emphasis is put on sunset photography. But, if you stop and think about it, it’s difficult to get a different, yet engaging shot from a sunset. Therefore, how about thinking lateral? You know, taking pictures long after the sun has gone down. And that’s exactly where twilight photography comes into play. The best thing to do is wait 15 to 20 minutes after the sun has dropped below the horizon before actually snapping a picture. Your results may vary and it could take as long as 40 minutes after the sunset for any magic to really happen. So, before you go out into the night, here are a few tips that will keep you from unnecessary hassles. Let’s take a look!

Get All the Tools

By this, I mean a rock steady tripod, a fully charged battery (with at least a couple spare batteries just in case it runs out of juice) and a good amount of patience.

Arrive Before Sundown

Twilight photography is mostly about landscapes with people, trees, etc. acting as silhouettes to contrast the setting and infuse more life into those images. Therefore, it’s important to study the natural landscape where you’re shooting. And that’s why it’s best to go before sundown to study your location’s highs and lows. You should also keep the time of the season in mind before you venture off. Days could be warmer, but nights can get cold. That is particularly true if you’re shooting at high altitudes where the temperature drop after sundown is fast and dramatic.

Now that you’re all set up, look around and see if there is a lake nearby, a giant rock that resembles a human, bird, animal, etc. that might make for some interesting shots. It could even be the unique pattern a tree’s branches create. Anything interesting is worth capturing, so take note of everything.

Take Some Test Shots

What your mind perceives may not really turn out to be what you think. Therefore, it’s best to test out your subjects using different settings and different focal length options, such as telephoto to wide angle. Set your camera on a tripod and compose your image. After you set your camera into the full manual mode, set the aperture, shutter speed, ASA and white balance. You’ll want to set your ASA as low as it will go, which is not less than ASA 100. You should also set your f-stop somewhere between f8 and f13. Next, lock your focus on the portion of the image you think is the key element. Check your focus and then check it again. After that comes the most important thing: turning off the autofocus so that you have more room to focus on what you want to see and nothing else. That’s where your shots become unique and stand out from the usual sundown photos.

You should test shoot for only ten minutes after sundown and not before. Of course, the pictures won’t be as good as you’d expect, but remember, they are only test shots to get your camera ready and to check on your composition and settings.

Get Your White Balance Going

Since most of you probably use the JPEG mode to shoot pictures, white balance is key to a good landscape photograph (it’s not necessary if you’re shooting in RAW). Use your camera’s LCD screen to judge colors and contrast. At this point, some photographers drop their white balance to 2,800 degrees K, even if only to increase the saturation of blue tones. Then again, that is largely subjective. You need to do what suits you best, but the white balance will significantly change the way you take your pictures. You should then take a few more test shots to see if you’ve picked an appropriate white balance and exposure. Keep taking pictures until you’ve found your sweet spot!

Keep Clicking

Now, your test shots are over and you’re ready for the real thing. Here again, you need to keep taking pictures, because you never know what you might end up with. You should start between 20 and 25 minutes after sundown. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but in most cases, a half hour window is all you need to get your twilight pictures singing and dancing! You should continuously tweak your exposure time and keep clicking away to capture the fleeting moment in which you could treasure for life. My advice is to keep shooting even when things appear to be dull and monotonous. Why, you ask? Well, the cycle can be quite unpredictable. Something that’s dull one minute could turn into the most spectacular image, so you have to keep clicking!

Patience is Key

At the end of the day, twilight photography requires a lot of patience, because you’re shooting nature, which is something you can’t control. The best way to cope with that is to keep clicking, keep changing settings and continue shooting until at least one hour has passed after sundown. Once you decide there’s nothing more to it and you don’t have the energy to carry on, you should pack up your bags and call it a day.

And Finally…

After you transfer all of your pictures to your computer, you shouldn’t delete the images that appear dull at first sight. If you give it some time, you may find that some of the images have a certain quality that makes them unique. That’s the magic of twilight photography!

~ Zahid H. Javali