Twilight, the Magic Hour
Photography at night can yield beautiful results, if done at the right time. This magic hour is called twilight, and it happens between 7pm to 7.30pm here in Malaysia, but this may vary depending on which part of the world you’re in. In some parts of the world, due to longer daylight hours, the sky could still be bright at 9pm!
The trick to finding the right time to shoot is to observe when ambient light diminishes and artificial light takes over. Successful twilight photography relies on a good ratio of ambient to artificial light. Ambient light is natural light from the sun (or moon). Artificial light comes from home lighting, street lamps, car headlights and tail-lights, and even your flash gun (speedlight). The diagram on the left illustrates this process in chronological order. Take note of the bar graph on the right, showing the balance between ambient and artificial light. This balance changes as the day progresses.
At 12pm (noon) the sun is directly above, creating short shadows directly underneath the objects under it. At 3pm the sun moves westward towards the horizon, creating longer shadows. At 6pm it prepares to disappear under the horizon, creating even longer shadows. Up to this point, the lighting ratio (ambient : artificial) doesn’t change much.
At 7pm the sun disappears under the horizon but still partially illuminates the sky. This is usually when people turn on the lights in their homes, and street lamps are lit. At this point, the lighting ratio dramatically changes. The amount of ambient light will match the amount of artificial light, creating a brief window of opportunity to shoot. This is the Magic Hour.
As the night moves in at 8pm, the ambient light diminishes even more, and artificial light becomes even more dominant. At 9pm, ambient light disappears completely, leaving the sky a black featureless space, and the only light source left is artificial light. At this point, photos of buildings would only reveal their lights, but not much detail in the architecture.
Twilight image of Ubud town in Bali (taken from my Bali gallery), showing streaks created from car tail-lights, shops lit up from within, street lamps and the signature of twilight photography, a rich deep blue sky:
Kek Lok Si Temple in Penang, magnificently lit up at twilight (below). Taken from my Kek Lok Si gallery.
Craving for more insights on how to create beautiful twilight landscapes?
Time and again, I point readers to the best-selling Landscape Photography Guide by Australian landscape photographer Kajo Merkert.
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