Known to photographers as the "magic hour," the dawn and dusk hours of each day can provide stunning lighting conditions for photography. In this tutorial, we cover some basic techniques that will allow you to make the most of the twilight hours.
Photo by Gerry Balding
Step 1 - What & When
The twilight hours are the first and last hours of light each day; the mysterious periods graced by warm glowing light where there is neither daylight or darkness. It is when the sun casts dramatic light across scenes and potential photographic subjects which are just waiting for you and your camera. Many photographers are drawn to photographing sunsets and with the vast array of dramatic colours on show, it's easy to see why. But twilight photography is all about waiting until the sun has set and making use of the 20-30 minute window of beautiful light before it fades.
Step 2 - Make the most of your time
Such a narrow window of available light doesn't give you much time to shoot, so it's important to be prepared. Give yourself plenty of time before you start shooting to look around your location. Understand where the light is falling and experiment with the angle of the light being projected. It's difficult to predict fully how the light will behave, but the more you know your surroundings, the easier it will be to utilise the availably light. Many photographers prefer natural light over created light (flashes/lighting rig), the key is understanding how to best utilise the light available. During the twilight hours, the trick is to capture the mood created by the light, the warm glow through the oncoming darkness and the vibrant colours on show, giving that slightly magical feel.
Step 3 - Getting those dials right
On a technical level, you'll need to work with your camera in manual mode to make the most of the light available. A sturdy tripod is essential as you'll need to be working with long shutter speeds up to 1 or 2 seconds depending on the conditions. If you're shooting landscape shots, or a scene with lots of depth you'll need a small aperture around f/8 or above. Use the ISO accordingly, keeping it as low as possible to reduce grain, but high enough to allow an adequate amount of light in.
Step 4 - Subjects
Choosing your location is all-important, and highly dependant upon what your motive is. Subject matter such as a cityscapes will work extremely well by taking advantage of the glowing city lights as the sky fades into deep blues. You can opt for a more conventional landscape shot, heading for a good vantage point to view the twilight hours on a wider scale. My preference, however, would be to select subject matter on a smaller scale and experiment with photographing it in this unusual light, possibly even trying out some portraiture work and using the light effectively to capture your subject.
Give it a try
Get out there and give it a go yourself. It's best to head out on a clear day to start with to ensure you get a good period of light to work with. Make sure you wrap up warm, as once the sun is down it will start to get chilly. After you've get some good standard shots, try experimenting with silhouettes and using the light more creatively. Be patient, but keep shooting, even as the light fades to darkness. Don't be tempted to leave to early. Wait for as long as you can and keep shooting until it's actually dark, then shoot some more. Using very long exposures can make your camera more sensitive than your eye, therefore after it looks dark to you, you camera may still be able to pull out some detail.
Post links to your twilight photos in the comments and share your tips for shooting during this time!
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