Twilight occurs year round, but there’s something extra special about this ethereal light during the winter season. Here are some tips and techniques for capturing its beauty in photos.
As we approach the winter months, the days are shorter, the nights are longer, and then there’s the period in-between—the twilight period before sunrise and after sunset when the atmosphere is partially illuminated by the sun.
Twilight is a magical time of the day when the glow of the sun still lingers in the sky, even though it’s nowhere in sight.
The light evokes a moody, ethereal feel. It’s soft, and the colors are saturated and more diffused, making the exposure a little more forgiving. Think pink hues, purples, and light blues.
And, since the sun starts to rise later and sets earlier in the winter, we’re more likely to encounter this light as we go about our day.
The only thing as beautiful as twilight is twilight photography.
Have your camera ready and let’s discuss some tips and techniques that will allow you to make the most of the twilight hours behind the lens.
Twilight Photography Tips and Techniques
Plan Your Shoot
While you don’t have to be an early riser or night owl to capture twilight during the winter months, you do need to plan your shoot ahead of time and keep a watchful eye on the clock.
First, figure out when twilight occurs. You can do this by heading over to The Photographers Ephemeris, an outdoor photography app that allows you to track how exactly the light will fall wherever you are.
Once you’ve established the time, get to your location early. Twilight is a narrow period of time, meaning you don’t have much time to shoot. Being prepared by finding a location, setting up your composition, and adjusting your settings beforehand means more time capturing beautiful twilight photography.
Think ahead about the composition, the subject of your shot, whether there are any moving objects, and so on, so that you’re less likely to run into any surprises during your shoot.
What makes twilight even more magical during the winter months is on a snowy day. Imagine the twilight sky reflecting on a white landscape below for the most breathtaking winter shot in your portfolio.
If there’s no snow, head over to a frozen or icy lake to capture the beauty of the twilight sky in the reflection of the ice or water. Reflective surfaces do wonders to enhance the overall look and feel of a twilight shot.
What You’ll Need (Other Than Your Camera)
When shooting twilight photography, you’re working in low-light conditions, which means your shutter speed will inevitably slow to capture as much light from your shot as possible. The slower the shutter speed, the more at risk you are of capturing a blurry shot.
So, before you reach for your camera settings, the first order of business is to mount your camera on a sturdy tripod to avoid camera shake. Any movements will show up in the image as camera blur, so keeping your camera as still as possible is a must.
For this same reason, you’ll also want to use a remote shutter release or even your camera’s timer. Even the press of a button could produce a blurry shot when shooting long exposure photography.
Have a camera strap? Remove it. If it moves in the wind, it could shake your camera and ruin the shot.
Adjust Your Settings
As is the case with all photography, there’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to your camera settings. There’s a lot of trial and error. You’ll be required to take a few practice shots, adjusting your settings each time between takes before you find a happy balance. You’ll learn the limits of your camera in the process.
Not to mention, the light will continue to change during your shoot, which will require you to adjust your settings accordingly. Did you know there are three phases of twilight?
Civil twilight occurs the moment the sun slips behind the horizon and lasts about 30 minutes, depending on the season. You can expect to see a warm light that cools as time progresses.
This phase is followed by nautical twilight, when all the warm tones have faded and they’ve been replaced by cool purples and deeper blues.
Next up is the astronomical phase, a deep blue color that will darken over the next 30 minutes or so, before fading into black.
But, that’s not all. The subject of your photo will also change the light and, therefore, your settings.
For example, if you’re shooting twilight photos of a cityscape, the ambient lighting from buildings and street lamps will inevitably light up the surroundings, meaning you’ll need to adjust your settings accordingly. As is the case if you’re shooting a beautiful landscape shot with no lights in sight.
Shooting in manual mode is always recommended to give you full control of your camera’s ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.
But, if you’re not too savvy in manual mode, shooting in aperture priority mode is an option. This will allow you to set your camera’s aperture—between f/8 and f/13 is recommended when taking twilight shots—and your shutter speed will adjust accordingly.
In manual mode, however, you’ll need to ensure that you’re shooting at a slower shutter speed to produce a longer exposure time to take a sharper twilight shot. You can set your exposure anywhere between 5 to 30 seconds, depending on how much light you’re working with.
You’ll also want to set your aperture (your camera’s sensitivity to light) in manual mode. Again, anywhere between f/8 and f/13.
If you’re capturing a beautiful wintery landscape, choosing an aperture around f/11 or above is a good place to start. This will allow you to capture a larger depth of field, meaning the foreground, midground, and background will remain in focus.
Setting your camera’s ISO between 100 and 400 will minimize the risk of image grain. As a general rule, it’s always best to keep your ISO as low as possible.
Ultimately, you’ll best learn the limits of your camera’s ISO by taking a few test shots. Just play around with the ISO settings to figure out when the image turns noisy and adjust to find the right balance.
Twilight photography is no easy feat, but with a tripod, some pre-shooting practice, and a ballpark range for settings, you’ll undoubtedly capture some striking winter twilight shots that will blow you away.
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