Twilight Photography With Mixed Light Sources

Written by stuestler on September 17th, 2009

The most recent class assignment for my students was an introduction to my favorite photographic time of day – twilight shooting!

You can certainly create interesting images composing solely with the natural light after the sun goes down. The warmth of sunset cools to a deep blue as the light fades below the horizon, forming a stunning backdrop for silhouettes. The colors in the sky itself, especially dotted with glowing clouds reflecting the sun’s last rays, make amazing compositions. Adding water or any reflective surface to mirror the light show going on in the sky creates yet another level of intrigue.

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Still, it’s the playground of mixing man-made lighting with the waning natural light that will keep me fascinated for – well, I’d say hours, but it only lasts for 20 or 30 minutes! Unless you’re in the far north (or south, though I’ve not had an opportunity to shoot at twilight in Terra del Fuego – yet!) where the summer twilight seemingly does last for hours.

Exciting things happen when you mix the warm wash of tungsten light, the multi-colored palette of neon, and even the green glow of fluorescents and mercury vapor lights, against a backdrop of blue twilight.

While there have always been combinations of filters to adjust the tone and color balance to favor one source or the other, the advent of digital photography and instantly-adjustable white balance has made picking the right color balance incredibly easy. The classic FLB fluorescent filter, used to add that magenta glow that is never quite there in reality, can be mimicked by selecting the fluorescent white balance.

You can try every combination of white balance settings right there one after the other, and pick the one you like. Not to mention shooting in RAW and making minute adjustments in post processing.

Did I say digital photography makes it easier? Now the challenge is deciding which look is the “right” one for your eye. At this time of day there really are no rules. It’s “photographer’s choice”.

So grab your tripod, go out this evening and play!

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