There are three twilights for each end of the day. Most people only know about one.
Civil twilight is the one most people call “twilight.” It is the time, morning and evening when the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon. In decent weather, you can see the brightest stars, the horizon, and objects on the ground quite clearly. During this twilight, you can see well enough outdoors to not need artificial light.
During nautical twilight, the sun is 12 degrees below the horizon. General outlines of objects on the ground are discernable, but the horizon is indistinct, and you really need additional light to do anything with any detail, such as checking your camera settings.
The third twilight, astronomical twilight, is the period when the sun is 18 degrees below the horizon. You can barely see any evidence of light from the sun, and it does not lessen the brightness of the stars. Flashlights or auxiliary light are definitely useful during this time.
We often photograph during nautical twilight as we did last night.
When people join us on the Outer Banks, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is often on their wish list, and this group was no exception. We got down there early enough to give the participants exercises to expand their vision, as well as time to scout and see whether they wanted to photograph the lighthouse against the moonrise or sunset.
One needs to take time do this, since it is really hard to focus in the dark! Some joined me on the beach, and we studied this angle and that, so each person could decide which was best for him or her.
I have a spot I particularly like, as it reminds me of my sailing days when lighthouses were almost always viewed from the water. We were waiting for the reflections in the surf as it came raging in.
The problem was that the surf was, indeed, raging in, obscuring any reflections that I usually see from that general location. It was flood tide, an exceptionally high tide that comes with the full moon, and with the recent storms in North Carolina, the ocean was still reeling.
One of our participants noticed an area above the iron jetty where the water pooled as it was tossed up from the sea. While there was motion, there wasn’t too much for our purposes.
Sure enough, there were great reflections there, so each of us moved to find a new spot. We didn’t have to worry about focus, since we had not really changed the distance between us and the lighthouse. We were all set after tweaking our compositions.
We timed our clicks of the shutter to take advantage of the lighthouse beam and attendant reflections.
As people were slowing down and thinking about food (silly people), a glow appeared near the lighthouse, giving it an ethereal, other-worldly look. I’ve never seen it before, and I quickly clicked the shutter to take advantage of this unusual situation. Those who had not started to pack up their cameras or who were facing the other way to see the moonrise quickly turned back. We hope they got the reflections. They should have, as they were basically prepared. We won’t know for sure until we look at what everyone got in the workroom session in a few minutes. I hope they succeeded.
So, when you go out for an evening shoot, allow yourself enough time to focus on your subject before it gets too dark, check your exposure and other settings to make sure you will get the effect you had in mind. I find it good to set the camera on manual at this point, so I can add more light at will by selecting a slower shutter speed.
As you can see above, it was worth it.
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