When the sun disappears below the horizon, don’t make the mistake of thinking the best of the day is over and it’s time to pack your camera away. On the contrary, some of the most amazing lighting is about to appear, so keep watching the sky above the western horizon and make sure your camera is ready – set up on a tripod – with the lens focused to infinity and a remote release attached to fire the shutter.
This is the hour of twilight, although photographers often refer to this period as the ‘golden hour’, an aptly descriptive title given the quality of natural light that warms up the sky and surrounding features in the landscape. To the uninitiated, it may seem odd that even though the source of this light – the sun – has entirely slipped from view, the horizon will begin to glow orange. As the minutes pass, you may not detect any change. In fact, even ten minutes after sunset, the sky may still be looking rather dull and flat, but keep waiting and have that remote release to hand.
About 15 minutes after sunset, the first fiery, warm colours will begin to intensify in the early night sky. Thin broken cloud cover will also take on an amazing array of hues and bright colours as the sun’s rays are refracted and scattered in the atmosphere.
COASTAL SETTINGS One of the best locations for photographing the twilight zone is a stretch of west-facing coastal scenery. Before the sky begins its colour transformation, parts of the sea surface will also reflect colour and light, creating a foreground of dynamic interest to match the changing mix of hues in the sky. If there’s a bit of a breeze, waves and sea spray will create further random reflections and colour to the scene. Part of the attraction of seascapes to the photographer is the fact that the water (by its very nature) is such a fluid and dynamic surface, changing appearance to a greater and less predictable degree than a static landscape or landmark subject.
However, such conditions prove challenging to meter readings, and a camera’s automatic exposure values will prove less reliable. The best approach is to take many images at different exposures and compare the results on the camera monitor. Switch the autofocus off, too – the horizon is a vanishing point after all, so turn the focusing ring manually to infinity.
Twilight is a very brief part of the day, and by 15 or 20 minutes after sunset, the colour in the sky will be at its most saturated, so fire off as many exposures as possible. Be careful not to knock the camera or tripod when making any adjustments to aperture, ISO, shutter speed or other settings, as this will not only ruin your composition (the dreaded sloping horizon), but also create vibrations that will affect image sharpness if you fire the shutter again too soon.
KIT ADDITIONS A sensible addition to your normal camera kit when shooting in twilight is a headlamp or hand torch, which will prove a godsend when making alterations to camera settings, changing lenses or filters, or looking for a dropped memory card or battery. However, the most essential items of equipment are a tripod and remote release. While a tripod can’t be substituted, the absence of a remote release can be overcome by using the camera self-timer.
As you’ll be shooting in the direction of sunset, use a lens hood because flare can still occur even when the sun is no longer in the frame. Try some shots with a polarising filter, too,
74 www.geographical.co.uk JANUARY 2011