The House on Stella Street

It had been more than a year since I was at Bella Vida resort in Kissimmee, FL when I got a call from a new client asking to photograph a house there.

The property manager is also a decorator and I thought she did a nice job with a beach vibe in the dining area. From the color palette to the decor, it made me feel like sinking my toes into the sand.

Formal Dining Detail

I was originally just going to post that picture, but I went back a few nights later for some twilight shots.

I always check the forecast before a twilight shoot because while some clouds can make a sky interesting as it changes color; too many clouds can ruin the shot.

Just my luck, the direction I was shooting in had a dark, ominous cloud. Across the street was clear and beautiful, but this is what I had to deal with:


Well, when life gives you lemons…use a sky replacement!

4524 Stella St. Twilight

The home also has a cool color wheel on the pool light. Check it out:



Apps to Track the Sun

If you’re a photographer and you shoot outdoors then you know how important it is to shoot when the light is just right. For me, I have to time the angle of the sun to shoot the front of houses and pools. So you’ll understand if I’m a little obsessed with tracking the sun.

I’ve previously written about the Sun Seeker app in the “Must Have Apps for Photographers” and the LightTrac app in “A Must Have App for Outdoor Photographers“. I’ve run across two more apps that track the sun, but first I want to review the LightTrac app since it’s what I use the most.

Sreengrab of LightTrac app

I have a couple of complaints about the app. First, it works differently on the iPhone than on the iPad. On the iPad, if you want to search for a location, just hit the “location” button and type in the address. On the iPhone, however, when you type in an address, you first have to save the location before you can see the angle of the sun. My second qualm about the iPhone version is that I often get that “Compass Interference” message. I know that’s an issue with the phone and not the app, but it’s annoying nonetheless. To be fair, I get the interference when using the Sun Seeker app as well.

The next two issues I have are with the maps in the iPad version. I shoot houses, so I need to pinpoint a location. Sometimes, when I enter an address, the marker is on a street or a nearby house. So I usually use Google maps to pinpoint the house and then compare it to the map on LightTrac to make sure I have the right location.

Secondly, when you zoom in all the way, the streets do not follow the map. Let me explain: Imagine the base map as a layer in Photoshop. The streets are “drawn” onto a layer on top of the map. When you zoom in all the way, the street lines do not line up with the street on the map. You can see in the iPad screen grab above how Archfeld Blvd. does not line up with the road on the map. All in all, my complaints are not enough to render the app unusable and I still rely on it for almost every shoot I do.

Alright… on to the new apps! The first is called “Magic Hour“. This app simply lets you plan to shoot during that magic hour a half hour before and after sunset when the sky displays those beautiful colors. Photographers usually call this the “golden hour”.

Magic Hour App

As you can see, you enter your location and the app tells you when magic hour begins and ends and even displays a countdown timer. Simple, but useful.

The next app is called “Sol” and I really love the graphical presentation.

Sol App

Your location at present time is placed on top of a sphere. You use your finger to rotate the times of day around your location. So, for example, in the screen grab above, if I were to rotate “Golden Hour” above my location, the clock would tell me what time it would be. You can then transition to the phases of twilight until you get to nighttime and eventually back to the phases of twilight in the morning.

I think this is an excellent way to visualize the phases of twilight, understand there are two times of the day that mirror each other in terms of light and see how long each one lasts. If you want to learn more about shooting in twilight check out my “Twilight Photography” post.

There you have it; four apps to track the sun and figure out the best time of day to shoot. I linked to the apps in the iTunes store, but I believe most of them work on Android devices as well.

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 depending on how many degrees below the horizon 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.