This week’s guest blogger is Elijah Goodwin, Elijah is a writer, photographer and scientist from Falls Church, VA
So many times I’ve been photographing at a location, and when the sun sets most of the other photographers leave. Or conversely, most photographers show up at a location in the morning after the sun rises. It really surprises me. Don’t get me wrong; I love having these beautiful locations all to myself during the best parts of the day. But I can’t help but wonder; why do so many nature photographers give up on potentially the best light of the day and the times when wildlife are the most active? Are you embracing the twilight? Maybe it’s time you should.
Civil twilight occurs twice a day and is defined as the period between when the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon and sunrise, and again between sunset and when the sun sinks 6 degrees below the horizon. More importantly for us, it defines the edges of visible light; when terrestrial objects and the horizon can be clearly distinguished, despite the lack of direct sunlight. Often the color in the sky is most intense 10-20 minutes before the sun rises or shortly after the sun sets, particularly if you are lucky enough to get a day with moderate to heavy cloud cover, but clear at the appropriate horizon. The light show during this time period can be absolutely magical. Will it be magical every single time? When is anything ever certain in nature photography? On the whole though, the extra effort and time is worth the images you’ll capture, and you’ll get to enjoy the sights, sounds, and relative peace of nature, regardless of whether the light show is spectacular, nonexistent, or somewhere in between.
Twilight is also generally a time of increased activity for wildlife. Nocturnal animals are finishing their night’s wanderings or stirring from their daytime rest. Crepuscular animals are at their most active and even diurnal animals often have spurts of intense activity during these times. With the increased high-ISO performance of recent digital cameras this offers an ideal opportunity to get action shots of great species, in great light. But don’t neglect the low-ISO settings either. If your target animal happens to be one that stands still for long periods, like the heron above, you can capture unique environmental portraits. This is also a great time of day to experiment with motion blurs or abstracts using slow shutter speeds, or go for a silhouette against the colorful sky.
What are some technical considerations for capturing images at twilight? Well, first off, you need to know when and where to be. Many internet weather sites will give you the times of civil twilight for a particular location, but there are several apps that will give you much more information. My two favorites are Sunrise Sunset Pro ($1.99) and The Photographer’s Ephemeris (http://photoephemeris.com/), which not only gives you astronomical times, but overlays the directions of these events on a satellite image of the location and is available in a desktop version (free) and universal app ($8.99). Next, with the long exposure times often necessary, you should be using a tripod, cable-release or self-timer, and mirror lock-up. Finally, if your camera has decent long exposure noise reduction built-in, consider using that or a post-processing application to clean up some of the noise inherent in long twilight exposures.
Now, set that alarm a little earlier and/or tell your partner you’ll be home late and start taking advantage of the loveliest times of day for nature photography!