Twilight Photography

Baldwin Park Waterfront

I love shooting at twilight. I especially love taking long exposures at twilight. The trick is knowing when to shoot; the window closes very quickly.

Go to Google and type in “sunset times for [insert your city]”. You might have to select an option that shows you “Civil, Nautical and Astronomical” twilight times. Each period of twilight has a scientific explanation┬ádepending on how many degrees below the┬áhorizon the sun is. You should also note that twilight happens in the morning and the evening; but I like to sleep so I’m going to stick to evening times.

In Orlando, for January 17th, the sun sets at 5:52pm. Civil twilight comes first and “ends” at 6:18pm. I say “ends” because it started in the morning at 6:53am (but my alarm went off 8 minutes ago so screw it). This means that from 5:52pm to 6:18pm you get those nice golden sunset colors. Colors will change quickly as the amount of light falls off.

Nautical twilight ends at 6:47pm. This is my favorite time to shoot.

Winne Palmer Hospital

From 6:18 to 6:47, you’d get these deep blue colors in the sky. This is a good time to play around with white balance. Try tungsten for more dramatic skies. If you’re shooting buildings, pay attention to what kind of lights they might be using. Most office or commercial buildings might be using flourescent lights; residential will have tungsten.

A two story house with Christmas lights

Of course with such low light, you’re going to need a tripod; which goes without saying for the long exposure stuff. I usually shoot at f/22 to get the “star” effect from the lights which means really slow shutter speeds. A cable release is also helpful.

The last phase of twilight is called “astronomical“. On this day it ends at 7:15pm. So from 6:47pm to 7:15pm, you’ll get much darker skies. Personally, I find the effect I’m looking for is lost by this time. After 7:15pm would officially be nightfall and too dark to shoot anything with an interesting sky.

So you can see that each phase of twilight lasts for about a half-hour. This varies based on where in the world you live and what time of year it is.

Oh, remember I said I didn’t like to catch the morning twilight? Well, I had to once. This last image was taken just after 6am.

If you happen to be an early riser, just keep in mind that the phases happen in reverse to what I just described. Astronomical twilight would happen first, then nautical, then civil (the orange colors of the sunrise).

Most photographers are focused on shooting sunsets, or portraits taken at sunset. But don’t overlook the opportunities that exists after the sun goes down..and the vampires come out! Get it? Twilight. Sigh. Sorry.