5 Tips For Photographing Twilight

May 10th, 2017 by Zack Schnepf

by Zack Schnepf

Twilight has always been one of my favorite times to photograph.  The quality of light that exists after the sun goes down in the evening, or before the sun comes up in the morning is wonderful.    The light is soft, colors are saturated, and exposures are generally easier.  It can also give images a moody, or ethereal feel.  For many locations, the light of twilight can be the best light of the day.  In this article I’ll share some of my favorite twilight images as well as 5 tips for photographing twilight.

1.  Arrive extra early in the morning and hang around well after the sun sets.  Twilight can start earlier than you might think.  For this image of the fresh snow near Mount Hood, I was winter camping just a few hundred yards away from this spot.  I was awake and hiking to this spot 2 hours before sunrise and this light was happening almost as soon as I arrived.  The light illuminated the scene earlier than I was used to, because I was shooting directly into the rising sun and there was a blanket of snow covering everything.  The snow was so reflective the whole scene was glowing from the early light of dawn twilight.

2.  Make sure you have a headlamp, or flashlight with you.  I have been caught in situations where I thought I had a headlamp with me only to discover that I accidentally left it behind.  I was left to find my way back in the dark several times.  Luckily these days we all have smart phones that can be used as a flashlight in a pinch, but I still always carry at least one primary headlamp, flashlight and extra batteries.  It’s easy to get lost in fading twilight, a good flashlight and some pre-planning will help you keep your bearings and find your way home.

3.  Use a solid tripod setup.  Once the sun goes down, the light from the sun bounces off the the gasses and particles in the atmosphere.  This is part of the reason why the light is so interesting during twilight.  The sky acts like a giant soft box, the light is even, diffused and saturated, but it’s not very bright and requires long exposures.  You need a good tripod setup to help stabilize your camera to accommodate the longer exposure times. I use a heavy duty, carbon fiber Gitzo tripod and a Really Right Stuff bullhead.  This is a very solid and stable setup in low light.

4.  Bring warm clothes even it’s a warm day.  It’s so easy when you’re out on a warm summer evening to think you’ll be warm enough past sunset.  Especially in the mountains, and on the coast it can cool down very quickly after the sun goes down.  Even in the middle of summer I always carry a jacket, warm hat and gloves in my camera bag.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been so relieved to have those warm clothes with me.  It’s better to have them and not need them, than the reverse.  When I was capturing the image below in White Sands park in New Mexico, I set out in beautiful weather 75 degrees and light winds.  Once the sun went down the wind picked up and the temperature dropped quickly.  I was so glad to have my warm clothes with me for my hike back to the car.

5.  Use the histogram to help determine exposure.  When the ambient light is low, the LCD on the back of your camera appears really bright.  An exposure that looks perfect on your LCD could be several stops underexposed.  The LCD is not a good way to evaluate your exposure, especially in low light.  Use the histogram to evaluate your exposure.  Here is a link to an article about the virtues of using the histogram to evaluate exposure:  http://www.photocascadia.com/blog/the-histogram-one-of-the-most-useful-tools-in-photography/#.WRI9u1KZMUE

You can learn more about me and find my video tutorials covering the post processing techniques used to create these images on my website: http://www.zschnepf.com

  • Raphael Schnepf

    Good tips Zack!