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Evening photography

Twilight is the time for your best "night" pictures.


Street lights often come on at twilight, when the sun has gone down but the sky is still bright.
Street lights often come on at twilight, when the sun has gone down but the sky is still bright.

Many photographers believe there is an ideal two-hour time frame in which to shoot pictures in ambient light. The time frame begins one hour before sunset, when the sun’s light is warmer than it is throughout the day, and ends one hour after sunset, when twilight gives way to darkness. Twilight is characterized by a soft, diffused light from the sky when the sun has gone down.

YOUR BEST “NIGHT” PICTURES MAY BE TAKEN DURING TWILIGHT

Much of what we think of as night photography is actually taken during the evening, especially during twilight (when the sun has gone below the horizon). You may, for example, be photographing an artificially-lit building, one that has floodlights illuminating it or that has interior lights on that can be seen through the windows. If you photograph it during twilight, when the sky still retains some of its blue or when clouds are still visible, you will find that the sky has a night-time look in your images, but it is not completely black, and you can still see the clouds. The effect is very pleasing, and anyone looking at your image will identify it as having been taken at night. If you can capture the moon in the view frame, the effect is enhanced. If you took the same picture well after dark, everything around the building would be in blackness, and the sky would appear featureless, unless there is a particularly bright moon.

Pictures taken during twilight can often be mistaken for night-time photographs, and in a sense, they are, since the sun has gone down. Twilight produces richly-lit, night-like images. They are distinguished by their fuller subject illumination, even though the background is often dark.

EVENING PHOTOGRAPHY MEANS LONG EXPOSURES

The brightness of the sun’s light diminishes gradually throughout this two-hour period, making longer exposures necessary. When the light is so dim that slow shutter speeds make hand-holding your camera (while still getting sharp, properly-exposed pictures) impossible, a firm camera support is needed. A tripod and cable release for your shutter are your best bet to avoid camera shake at speeds under 1/60 sec depending on the focal length of the lens you are using, and sometimes 1/30 sec if you are well-braced. (See Slow shutter hand-holding.) If you don’t happen to have a cable release, you can use your camera’s self-timer for any shutter speeds that are faster than the “B” shutter speed setting - i.e. 1 sec, 1/2 sec, 1/4 sec and faster.

As the sun disappears beneath the horizon, the intensity of its light changes rapidly. This change continues to occur even when the sun itself has completely disappeared.
As the sun disappears beneath the horizon, the intensity of its light changes rapidly. This change continues to occur even when the sun itself has completely disappeared.

CAREFUL METERING IS THE KEY

As with any photograph you take, proper exposure is determined by careful metering of the subject. Evening scenes, however, can be deceptive to your light meter, because there may be sources of light in the scene that are brighter than the light falling on your subject, or large dark areas in the viewfinder that throw off an averaging light meter.

A spot meter can be used to read just the light that is falling on your subject. If you don’t have one, then move in close to take your meter reading of the light illuminating your subject only, and use those exposure settings when you step back to compose the image from your original vantage point. If you are shooting an overall scene, take a meter reading from what you would like to be a mid-tone in the scene. When a scene has a mixture of lighting sources, some particularly bright lights may be over-exposed and shadow areas may be quite dark, but the scene's overall exposure should be fine.

Always remain conscious that the light is fading fairly rapidly, so when you have made an exposure reading, don't wait ten minutes before taking the picture. The light will have changed.


 
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Slow shutter hand-holding