Tips for Twilight Photography
Photographing landscapes after dusk is not as easy as photographing during the day. Twilight offers low light, which means you’ll have to increase the ISO setting, and many cameras are extremely noisy at high ISO settings.
Here are some tips for the aspiring twilight photographer:
Scout your shooting location. Even if you know the place you plan to shoot like the back of your hand, the next time you shoot there, get into a twilight state of mind. Look at the features of the landscape and visualize what they’ll look like as silhouettes.
If you think a tree will look good as a silhouette, use it as a focal point in one of your images. You also need to think of the background and make sure there are no large shapes that will compete with the object you’ve chosen as the focal point of your image.
Visualize. As you check out a location that might be good for shooting at twilight, look for objects you can use to compose your images. Are there any strong lines that you can use to lead your viewer into the image? Remember that a diagonal line is more interesting than a vertical one. Also look for natural frames.
Get your times right. If you plan to do a photo shoot beginning at dusk and into the twilight, know what time dusk begins. You can find this information online or by using an application like The Photographer’s Ephemeris.
Leave plenty of time to get to your location and set up. An unexpected traffic jam when you have perfect conditions for photographing your desired subject is not good if you don’t have a fudge factor. If you do leave in plenty of time and run into a traffic jam, you can visualize, while you wait, the great pictures you’re going to get.
Look for reflective surfaces. Clouds will reflect in bodies of water like lakes and rivers. If you have a still body of water, you have a mirror reflection of the sky and any objects on the horizon.
Use a tripod. Your exposure times will be long. Cranking up the ISO in twilight will result in lots and lots of digital noise in the shadow areas of your image, which in many instances is the majority of the image.
A long exposure time will increase noise as well, but not as bad as switching to an ISO high enough to hand-hold the camera. Another benefit of using a tripod is you can get the camera level.
Lock the mirror. Before you fly into the twilight, make sure your camera mirror is in the upright and locked position. This applies only if you use a dSLR to take your pictures.
When you take pictures at slow shutter speeds, the act of the mirror stopping transmits vibration to the camera, which results in an image that isn’t as sharp as it could be.
If your camera has the option to save custom settings, create a custom setting to lock up the mirror. Add other settings such as switching to the Aperture Priority mode.
Use a cable release. A cable release enables you to open the shutter without touching the camera (which can cause vibration resulting in a blurry image). In lieu of a cable release, you can use the auto-timer to delay the release of the shutter.
Carefully position the horizon line. Place the horizon line where it will draw the viewer’s attention to the most important objects in the photograph. Photographer David duChemin calls this “visual mass.”
If the most interesting parts of your photograph are above the horizon line, place the horizon line in the lower third of the image. If the most important parts of your image are below the horizon line, place the horizon line in the upper third of the image.