After Sunset


Every photographer loves the late afternoon light and a good sunset is hard to beat but most people rush off when the sun dips below the horizon thinking the show is over.  But it’s not.  As long as you have a tripod, there’s still lots of good photo ops after sunset.  Here’s a few:


1. The sky as a backdrop


After the sun goes down, the sky still has color – sometimes spectacular color.  It just doesn’t have a bright dot in it making it hard for your camera to meter the light properly.  Take advantage of this time to capture landscape photos with a lot of sky.  Put your camera on a tripod, set the aperture low and take a 10 or 15 second shot.  Mirror lock and a cable release will help to reduce vibration on long shots like this.


2. Blue light


There is a short period of time, after the sun goes down, when the sky will be a brilliant blue in your images.  Photographers call this blue light.  The human eye does not see this color but your camera will capture it.  So, if you’re still shooting after the sun goes down, sooner or later you will notice the sky color change to blue and then eventually to black.  The blue light generally starts 15 or 20 minutes after sunset and may only last 10 or 15 minutes so you have to wait for it and then be ready to shoot the image that is begging for a really blue sky.


3. Lights with color in the sky


After the sun sets, while there is still color in the sky, lights start coming on.  This means that you can capture a photo of a lit building or monument while still capturing some color in the sky too.  Depending on the lights, this color combination can be very dramatic and something you can’t capture at any other time of day.


4. City Lights


Later, once the sky is dark and all the lights are on, you can capture landscape and architectural images created by the lights.  The city skyscrapers, bridges and monuments all look different at night.  Again, as long as you use a tripod, you can reduce the aperture and take a multi-second shot that will paint your image with the available light.


5. Traffic


With a long exposure, an image of moving traffic includes a lot of streaks of light.  With the lights of the city painting the outline, these streaks will define the roads and the traffic patterns.  Try to find a high vantage point that looks down on the traffic like a balcony overlooking a busy intersection.  Then wait for traffic to move and take a long exposure.  This technique works even better if there is one vehicle stopped in the middle of the intersection while other cars are going around it.


6. Star Trails


If you’re ever in a location where the sky is really clear and you see lots of stars, try taking a picture of them.  The longer the exposure, the more the stars show up.  If you have a Bulb mode on your camera you can hold the shutter open long enough to photograph stars moving across the sky.  This requires a tripod, mirror lock and a cable release that you can lock.  It also requires total darkness so that ground lights don’t interfere with your shot.


7. Nocturnal Wildlife Photography


Some animals just don’t come out in the daytime so if you want a photo of them, you will have to look for them after dark.  Whether you’re on a safari or just walking around your own back yard, the technique is the same.  You find them when your flashlight reflects off their eyes.  Once they are located, you must be ready with one or more brighter lights to illuminate the animal.  Camera flashes will work if they are close enough but other lights are needed if they are further away.  Try not to keep a bright light in their eyes very long though.


8. Paint With Light


You can create your own artistic images at night with a strong handheld light.  Just like the streaks created by headlights and taillights of moving vehicles, you can create your own streaks with a more controlled pattern.  For example, if you point your camera at a blank wall and take a 10 second exposure while you create a pattern with your flashlight, the pattern will show up in your picture.


9. Ghost Images


Another fun image can be created with people walking through your scene as you take a long exposure.  If the people don’t stay in one spot long enough, they won’t show up in the picture or they will show up as a ghost that you can see through.  You can combine this technique with light painting too.  Have a person walk through the scene carrying a candle.  The light trail will show up but the person may not.


10. Fireworks


You can take good photos of fireworks too.  With a tripod and a long exposure, the explosions in the sky will give off enough light for a photo.  Timing is the key here.  If the exposure is too long, the photo will be a blurry mess of many different fireworks.  If the exposure is too short, you won’t get the full effect.  I find that 2 or 3 seconds is long enough if you press the shutter when the display first goes off.


So the next time you photograph the sunset, stay longer and see what the nightime has to offer.


May your travel and your photography both be rewarding!


   Roger Nelson