Twilight Photography

Posted on 16 July 2012 by Sean Andrade

It is said that Black goes with any and every colour; but to achieve a level of acceptable balance is rather difficult at times whether you are a painter, designer, or photographer. Black is not a colour but something that increases the depth of the colours around it, sometimes a void that graciously gives its surrounding life. Here are some tips to help you aspiring photographers and artistic visualizers out there.

Low light levels make night photography a challenging yet rewarding subject. After sunset, the everyday world is magically transformed, and city buildings, fireworks, thunderstorms and the northern lights all become popular subjects. But with the variety in elements and perspective, twilight photography takes a whole different dimension which you can sometimes achieve in the absence of your fancy equipment.

Now there is a constant search for finding colour in the darkness, be it in the streetlights at night, or the moonlight shining on branches; these different shades of black give a feeling of the unreal. During such times, your biggest weapons and tools are your eyes, you have to see and alter your perspective to tame even that faintest call of light and life. So if your eye perceives it, your lens receives it.

The results can be very stunning and strange effects are easy to master. With many night photography subjects, total darkness at night isn’t necessarily the best time to actually do ‘night shots’. I think late dusk is usually a great time. This is when there is just a bit of light left in the sky after sunset (or before sunrise for the early rising photographer). The advantage of shooting at this time is less large areas of black in the image, this cuts down on excessive contrast and adds more colour to the image. The residual daylight that is left will also ‘fill in’ the large shaded areas that are not lit by artificial lighting. But this does not mean that all night shots should be taken at dusk. There are certain subjects and night photography techniques that are more successful when practised in total darkness at night.

Now, in the “old days”, there were issues regarding film that made it more difficult to get good night exposures as we could not see the final image. But this is not the case with present day dSLR cameras. However, the problem with dSLRs and using them for night photography is that the higher film speed or ISO you take, the chances the noise your device will make increase. The only way out is the traditional solution – to practise.

An important factor in night photography is how the lighting is portrayed in the scene. When portraying rows of street lighting for example, the direct light source itself is being photographed, therefore the lighting being exposed is very bright. An image of a floodlit building on the other hand is an image exposed by reflected light. This naturally is much weaker and would need a much longer exposure.

With extremely low light levels, moving subjects such as people walking will not register in the image so long as there is very little light shining upon them. Cars are a good example of using this technique. With long shutter speeds and moving cars, the headlights and taillights will register as streaks. The cars themselves will not register on the image.

Some reminders:

  • Use the self timer or a cable release.
  • Also try not using your flash unless your subject is within 10 meters of your range.
  • Learn your camera like the back of your hand to mix and match your shots. And remember to use a camera with a high ISO for night shots (like from 3200 onwards)
  • Try using a tripod for added stability since night shots require a bigger aperture and slow shutter speed
  • Click more pictures of the same subject from different angles, settings, and perspectives.
  • And most importantly, visualise your picture before you click it

Twilight photography may seem decently challenging but the final product is exhilarating to say the least. Happy shooting.

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