Between the lights

As long as you wrap up warm, winter’s a great time for twilight photography, as Andrew Cowin explains.

23/11/2010 - 15:43


Taken on a drizzly summer evening using the Pentax K10 and 16–45mm at the 45mm setting with an exposure of f/8 at about five seconds.

You know the situation: you’ve travelled miles to take photos, but suddenly the clouds are rolling in and rain looks imminent. A couple of test shots confirm your worst fears – the subjects may be interesting, but the light is yuck. Before you pack your stuff up and set off home in a towering fury, take a deep breath and relax. Even if the weather gets worse, you still have a great chance of getting a couple of really good shots – perhaps even spectacular ones, if you’re lucky.

Sceptical? Well, take a look at the picture of the town of Breisach on the German-French border with its lovely medieval church perched on a steep hill. This was taken at the end of a chilly, grey February afternoon, with yours truly hopping from one leg to another in the cold, while preparing to make a dash for the car if the rain suddenly started to bucket down – which it did about two minutes later.

It tickles me that most people find images like this unusually romantic and atmospheric – in fact, it’s been used to promote tourism of the place shown. However, anyone like me who had the misfortune to be there at the time may well think twice about going back!

What this image illustrates is that it was taken at that most magical time of day – twilight. And the wonderful thing is that, seen from a photographer’s point of view, twilight is pretty well always magical, regardless of what the weather is like.

The reason for this can be partly found in the word itself – twilight which implies that two types of light are present. First there’s the fading natural daylight and then there’s the manmade artificial lights that tend to come on about half-an-hour after sunset.

The magical bit is that there’s a phase during which the natural light is still softening the shadows while the sky is decreasing in luminosity to such a point that it’s perfectly in balance with the constant artificial light. This phase is quite short, though. As I’ll explain, you can extend it to about 20 minutes if you plan carefully in advance.

During this time, the natural light becomes more shadowy and picks up a strong blue cast capable of turning the greyest, gloomiest sky into a gorgeous deep indigo. Before this, the sky is too pale and washed out; after it, the sky goes black, and the romance is lost in harsh highlights and opaque shadows.

Time was when taking twilight shots was a tricky and expensive business. Even the best lightmeters
could be misleading at such low light levels, so you had to shoot a lot of film to be sure of getting at least a couple of reasonable shots. Even then, the results were sometimes highly puzzling, with bizarre colour casts making the whole thing a bit of a lottery. Nowadays, the possibility of reviewing your images on the spot not only reduces the element of chance, it also opens up new creative possibilities.

Technically, considering the potential rewards, twilight photography isn’t that demanding, although some trial & error may be needed to hone your abilities. One brief remark to start with – just because it’s dark, don’t raise the ISO rating. I always work at ISO100 for top quality and once you have the camera on the tripod, who cares whether the exposure is one or 10 seconds?

Which brings me to the tripod. Obviously, this is usually essential, and the more solid the better, especially if there’s wind and you’re using a longer lens. However, if you happen to be caught without one, look for anything solid that might serve as a firm base.

The shot of St. Peter’s in Rome had to be taken with the camera resting on a bollard, angled upward
using my wallet. I use the two-second release-delay mode to avoid shake.

A wet evening on holiday in Rome with no tripod at hand – however, a bollard did good service for an exposure of 13 seconds at f/11, using a 50-200mm at nearly full stretch. The shot was taken
a little late, so the sky has gone a touch too dark.
  The use of the shadow filter added a warming touch to this twilight scene where the large areas of green
would otherwise have been too dull. Pentax K20D and 50-200mm at 70mm Exposure; five seconds at f/8.
Warm colours are usually attractive, and this is what the AWB setting came up with here.   However, in this case, the candlelight filter cooled things down to produce a more striking image. K10D with 16–45mm at about 30mm. The exposure was four seconds at f/8.

Exposure suggestions

As the metering conditions at twilight are exceptional, you’ll generally want to put your camera into manual mode. I would suggest opting for an aperture setting of f/8 if there’s enough light to get away with it. This just leaves the shutter speed to be determined. To measure the available light, I recommend using the camera’s spotmeter mode. This allows you to roam around the image in the viewfinder, picking out the parts you think have a medium brightness, and then checking highlights and darker sections to see if the light is reasonably well balanced.

My usual technique is to keep measuring the sky above my subject until it fades to the point that it
registers 1 to 2 steps above a middle reading. This means that the sky should come out bright, but rich blue, roughly like the one to the left. Five minutes before this, it’s a pale sickly colour, ten minutes later it’s coal black.

Having taken a first shot, take time to review the result. This sometimes means being a little patient, because for longer exposures, cameras like the Pentax *ist D and K10D/K20D may well take several seconds before completing data storage. Then, it’s important to remember that the image you view can’t be trusted unconditionally – because it’s getting dark, the viewing screen will seem bright and cheerful, even if your image is underexposed.

So, always make a point of checking the histogram. Even if this seems OK, make a series of exposures going about 1.5 stops (using the shutter speeds) in either direction of what looks to be the perfect shot. That way, you’ll be sure of getting things right.

Experience has taught me that it’s better to have what seems to be an underexposed image with most of the peaks in the left half of the histogram. This means the highlights don’t burn out, which is important during processing when you may need to reduce contrast while lightening shadows.

Pentax digital filters
Having mastered this rule-of-thumb approach to low-light images, you might like to begin experimenting a little to improve your results. Here, the filter options on the Pentax K10D/K20D offer a happy hunting ground for tinkering. Having got your first decentlooking image, simply preview the various filter options in playback, and see if any of them change the colours for the better.

Look at the two shots of the Town Hall in Middelburg, Holland (right) to see how this works. Using auto white balance, the effect was pleasantly warm against a fading sunset sky. However I found that moving to the candlelightfilter and injecting a large, cooling shot of blue gave the building the pristine sharpness against a superb blue sky that I was looking for.

With the next picture, the opposite was the case – the weather was grey, and my initial review image had a muddy, bluish quality that wasn’t exactly inspiring. The solution was simply to apply the shadow filter, which cut through the blue and added a warm, magenta tinge to the surroundings, not unlike the effect you sometimes get after particularly splendid sunsets. In this case, the illumination of the buildings was quite weak so the contrast of the image had to be boosted in Photoshop.

Instead of using one of the standard filter settings, you can also make fine manual adjustments to the filtering. A good example of this is the shot of Regensburg on the Danube (bottom). Water is always a rewarding element in twilight picture. Sometimes, like here, it can produce a mirror effect that enhances composition; at others (when it’s windy or the river is fast-flowing) you get fascinating swirls of colour. I didn’t like the purplish cast on the AWB version and the candlelight-filter produced an artificially blue result, so I used the manual filter option to move the colours towards blue while retaining a warm, mauvish touch.

Taken from Philosophers’ Walk overlooking Heidelberg to show what rewards you can reap from twilight photography when it has snowed. Using a long zoom with exposures of five seconds at f/11. The magenta touch was deliberately introduced by manual filtering.
Twilight shots of modern buildings like this of Frankfurt’s Mainhattan skyline
only work in winter when people are still at work.
Manual white balance filtering removed a magenta cast while retaining a warm colouring. K10D with 16–45mm at about 25mm; 12 seconds at f/11 to
get good depth-of-field.

Planning helps
Twilight is enchanting, but like most enchanting things, it doesn’t last forever. About 10 minutes, to be precise. However, it is possible to stretch things a bit, if you plan well in advance. Obviously, after sunset, the sky in the east and north darkens first. So having scouted out the possibilities, first position yourself to photograph those subjects that you can take with your back to the sunset (the bright eastern sky also helps fill in the shadows of ‘western’ subjects). Then, as the sunset sky fades, you can turn towards the south and west to tackle subjects in those directions. Planning well means you can double your booty before night forces you to pack up.

Winter is a great time for twilight photography. First, you can take a batch of memorable images and still be home in good time for dinner, while in the summer, you’ll have to wait until past 10pm before you can even get started. Second; instead of being dark blobs blocking desirable objects, trees become interesting seethrough patterns enhancing low-light shots. Third, winter is the only time for getting decent twilight shots of modern architecture. For example, in January, the bankers in Frankfurt are still hunched over their desks when the sky fades at about 5pm. So, their lights are still burning brightly when you release the shutter. At other times of year, this is simply not the case.

Finally, the amazing thing about winter is that it still does occasionally snow. This may be cold, wet and slippery stuff, but for us photographers, the marvellous thing is that it is white. Which means that it helpfully brightens up those otherwise dark, shadowy areas that are often a problem in low-light photography. So, when the weather forecast brings tales of imminent motorway chaos and woe, it’s time to get out your best winterwoollies. Because, if you apply some of the principles outlined above, chances are that you’re going to bring some really fabulous images home with you.

More of Andrew's work can be seen on his website:

Related Photos


Link Posted 13/12/2017 - 07:06
Very informative and amusing game
This site is very useful
Thankyou so much
golf clash hacks


Link Posted 05/11/2018 - 12:37
Tourism Business is so Good but if the business is having bad reviews or any negative link than it is so bad - Contact us, we have the complete solution for it.
Last Edited by repumonk on 05/11/2018 - 12:38


Link Posted 26/07/2019 - 09:13
Excellent article. Very interesting to read. I really love to read such a nice article. Thanks! keep rocking. Crawley Tax Advisors


Link Posted 30/07/2019 - 12:12
I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post. hot toys


Link Posted 30/07/2019 - 14:36
I really loved reading your blog. It was very well authored and easy to undertand. Unlike additional blogs I have read which are really not tht good. I also found your posts very interesting. In fact after reading, I had to go show it to my friend and he ejoyed it as well! yoga classes in nerul


Link Posted 30/07/2019 - 22:52
Love the article dude, its similar to one they just posted over on Gimbal Garage.
Last Edited by itp6640 on 30/07/2019 - 22:52


Link Posted 01/08/2019 - 07:55
Searching for the best sushi nyc or sushi delivery. Find sushi delivery amsterdam ave and sushi delivery near me. Order sushi grade fish.


Link Posted 09/08/2019 - 07:24
I was looking at some of your posts on this website and I conceive this web site is really instructive! Keep putting up.. Wooden Bunk Beds


Link Posted 22/08/2019 - 09:07
This is highly informatics, crisp and clear. I think that everything has been described in systematic manner so that reader could get maximum information and learn many things. Little Rock Driveway Installation & Repair


Link Posted 24/08/2019 - 17:00
This is my first time visit to your blog and I am very interested in the articles that you serve. Provide enough knowledge for me. Thank you for sharing useful and don't forget, keep sharing useful info:


Link Posted 27/08/2019 - 09:27
A great content material as well as great layout. Your website deserves all of the positive feedback it’s been getting. I will be back soon for further quality contents. crowdfunding a business


Link Posted 17/12/2019 - 16:01
I'm glad I found this web site, I couldn't find any knowledge on this matter prior to.Also operate a site and if you are ever interested in doing some visitor writing for me if possible feel free to let me know, im always look for people to check out my web site. great wall 99 apk


Link Posted 03/03/2020 - 08:13
During this website, you will see this shape, i highly recommend you learn this review. cinderella solution testimonials


Link Posted 03/03/2020 - 08:18
It is very good, but look at the information at this address. the seven steps to health and the big diabetes lie


Link Posted 03/03/2020 - 08:22
Mmm.. estimable to be here in your report or notify, whatever, I repute I should moreover process strong for my have website want I play some salubrious further updated busy in your location. crazy-bulk review


Link Posted 03/03/2020 - 08:27
Can nicely write on similar topics! Welcome to here you'll find out how it should look. the online dog training reviews


Link Posted 03/03/2020 - 08:32
I also wrote an article on a similar subject will find it at write what you think. lisa olson pregnancy miracle book free download


Link Posted 03/03/2020 - 08:36
On this page you can read my interests, write something special. nootropic supplements reviews


Link Posted 04/03/2020 - 18:15
Thanks for writing such a good article, I stumbled onto your blog and read a few post. I like your style of writing... 안전공원


Link Posted 17/03/2020 - 18:40
Any time you're exploring the web occasionally I find a web site this really is rather thought invoking such as this one. Happy that I discovered your website because I very much liked this and so I anticipate your future post. An excellent web site and i'll come back once more for more useful content… singapore virtual number


Link Posted 06/07/2020 - 17:33
Mmm.. estimable to be here in your report or notify, whatever, I repute I should moreover process strong for my have website want I play some salubrious further updated busy in your location. roller garage doors centereach ny


Link Posted 08/07/2020 - 14:20
Mmm.. estimable to be here in your report or notify, whatever, I repute I should moreover process strong for my have website want I play some salubrious further updated busy in your location. seo consultant sydney


Link Posted 10/07/2020 - 17:55
Acknowledges for paper such a beneficial composition, I stumbled beside your blog besides decipher a limited announce. I want your technique of inscription... Experience


Link Posted 17/07/2020 - 21:53
wow this saintly however ,I love your enter plus nice pics might be part personss negative love being defrent mind total poeple , smm panel


Link Posted 16/08/2020 - 16:21
On that website page, you'll see your description, why not read through this. 먹튀검증업체


Link Posted 18/12/2020 - 10:55
For many people this is important, so check out my profile: dark web market links


Link Posted 22/03/2021 - 20:15
Listed here you'll learn it is important, them offers the link in an helpful webpage: Ambien for sale


Link Posted 29/04/2021 - 01:37


Link Posted 17/08/2021 - 18:27
Wow, this is truly amazing! Thanks for sharing.

Arizona air duct cleaning company


Link Posted 25/08/2021 - 19:27
These images are stunning. Absolutely breathtaking imo, keep it up!

mesa pest control


Link Posted 08/10/2021 - 02:11
Quality promotional products at a great price. Increase brand awareness and look amazing doing it!


Link Posted 08/10/2021 - 02:12
Small business that needs funding? We offer loans and small business funding to get you on your feet


Link Posted 08/10/2021 - 02:13
Looking for professional web design ? Aspen Hill Agency can design your website with full functionality and SEO as well.


Link Posted 23/10/2021 - 22:21
Textes joyeux anniversaire tonton uniques.


Link Posted 23/10/2021 - 22:22
Messages et textes bonne année 2022 pour les amis et la famille.


Link Posted 23/10/2021 - 22:26
Les meilleures et merveilleux vœux de bonne année 2022 pour toute personne.


Link Posted 23/10/2021 - 22:28
Merveilleux SMS de joyeux anniversaire cousine je t'aime.


Link Posted 29/11/2021 - 03:12
Things like this should be a prio!
Add a Comment
You must be registered or logged-in to comment.