Tips and tricks for landscape photography in twilight

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Twilight of the Gods – tips and tricks for landscape photography in twilight

The golden hour and the blue hour provide shining photographer’s eyes. Daniel Wohlleben gives insights into photography with atmospheric light in the morning and evening.

What makes a good landscape shot?

First, we need an interesting motif. Then it is important to put this into the best possible scene. In addition to the image composition, the light plays the decisive role here. In the right light, even everyday scenes suddenly appear atmospheric. The harsh midday sun make the most beautiful motif appear as uninspired. In contrast, a very special light mood prevails shortly after sunset in the evening or just before dawn in the morning. The following article is intended to provide inspiration and practical tips for photographing at twilight.

Evening atmosphere at the pond of Lambsheim: silhouettes with backlight

What is twilight?

To initially define again clearly what we are actually talking about is revealed by a view into the internet encyclopedia Wikipedia: "The smooth transition between day and night before the start of the day or after the end of the day is called twilight”. This smooth transition arises because the light of the sun already set or not yet risen is scattered in the atmosphere and therefore is visible on the horizon, albeit with less intensity. By differently strong scattering of the individual light components, a play of colours is created, in which the sky colour from orange/red via purple to deep blue. Photographing on Mercury must be correspondingly boring, where the day suddenly transitions to night due to a lack of atmosphere. Depending on the position of the sun below the horizon, twilight can still be divided into different phases, but which is less relevant in practice. Instead, primarily three things are interesting with the temporal planning of a photographic tour at twilight:

  1. Time of the sunrise/sunset
  2. Time window of the golden hour
  3. Time window of the blue Hour

The exact time and duration of this phase thereby change during the course of the year and depending on the position on the globe. To keep track, I use the app "PhotoPills". This shows the corresponding times on the respective day, as well as at any time in the future if desired and also offers many other useful functions.

Dawn on the Rehberg tower with a view of the Palatinate Forest

The golden hour

The golden hour refers to the hour after sunrise or before sunset, and is characterised by warm, soft light and atmospheric long shadows. In the golden hour, everything actually looks a lot better through this light characteristic. It is therefore not only suitable for landscape photography, but especially also for portrait photography.

The blue hour

The blue hour starts just before sunrise or just after sunset and is characterised by an intense blue colour of the sky. The blue hour is particularly attractive in urban areas, as the sky and the lights of the city approximately have the same brightness during that time. The deep blue colour simultaneously forms an appealing contrast to the complementary yellow of the artificial lighting of roads and buildings.

View from the Rehberg tower 30 minutes later: Imperial Trifels Castle at sunrise in the golden hour

Long exposure times

Another speciality of twilight photography: The fading light allows us to choose long shutter speeds even without using a gray filter slow shutter speeds. Thereby, for example, light traces of moving cars can be captured or the movement of the clouds in the sky can be represented. The images obtain more drama and dynamics thereby. Bodies of water can again be “smoothed” by a long exposure.

A tripod should be present

A tripod is of course mandatory for pronounced time exposures in the range of several seconds to minutes. Generally it is advisable to take pictures at twilight from a tripod in order to hold the ISO value as low as possible and thereby to achieve the best possible image quality in terms of noise performance and dynamic range. In principle, however, good shots are still possible by hand, especially during the early twilight. An image stabilisation built into the objective, such as the Tamron SP 15-30mm F/2.8 Di VC USD naturally helps enormously in obtaining sharp shots even with longer exposure times.

Dramatic sky above Heidelberg by a three-minute time exposure

Atmospheric silhouettes

Deliberate underexposure generates atmospheric silhouettes against the light. Ultimately, a motif must not always be fully illuminated to have an impressive effect. A positive side effect is the shorter shutter speed. It helps to prevent shaking.

Pink clouds

Finally, twilight often still has one or the other surprise for us. Various optical phenomena occur as twilight appearances. Although the sun has long since set, it may for example be the case that the clouds are illuminated from below and suddenly begin to glow pink. Here it is important to be quick, as the impressive phenomena often only lasts for a few minutes.

Afterglow in the evening sky even though has long since set

The objectives

All photos in this article were taken with the Tamron SP 15-30mm F/2.8 Di VC USD and the Tamron 18-200mm F/3.5-6.3 Di III VC. Both objectives have accompanied me through twilight in recent weeks. In particular, the 15-30mm with its unique combination of the 2.8 open aperture and image stabiliser is predestined for photography in twilight, and has convinced me in every aspect.

Brilliant for landscape photography: Tamron SP 15-30mm F/2.8

About the author: Daniel Wohlleben

Daniel Wohlleben lives in Heidelberg and is a passionate photographer. He finds his motifs preferably in nature: landscapes and animals have attracted him. Especially in the blue and golden hour, he travels around his hometown in search of motifs. But portraits and urban spaces also find their way into his portfolio.

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