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The 4 Different Phases in Sunset and Twilight Photography

There are few things in nature as beautiful and moving as the sunset. The horizon becomes a resplendent orange, bathing everything in a soft but brilliant orange-gold glow. For a few minutes before darkness sets in, the world is bathed in bright but gentle light—so gentle that it is finally safe to admire the sun with your own eyes.

The unique beauty of a sunset is the reason this daily occurrence is one of the most frequently photographed. However, many people think that once the sun has disappeared into the horizon, you’ve run out of time to take good photos. This could not be more wrong; there are plenty of opportunities for excellent photography during the twilight hours.

Twilight Photography

At this time of day, the sun’s rays enter the atmosphere at angles that cause light to refract a certain way. It results in interesting conditions for photography. What many people don’t know is that there are four kinds of twilight: sunrise or sunset, civil twilight, nautical twilight, and astronomical twilight.

In this article, we are going to talk about these four kinds of twilight in detail. Read on if you want to up your photography game.

1 - Sunrise or Sunset

Photographers often make use of this moment in the day to take amazing and brilliant landscape and portrait photographs. As we mentioned earlier, the sunlight during this time is gentler. Photographers can take pictures with the sun in the background without the worry of overexposed shots.

The sun also ends up bathing the environment in warm and comforting tones. Since the source of the light is also low, it creates interesting shadows on the landscape—perfect for drone photography.

2 - Civil Twilight

Civil twilight is the brightest phase in the twilight hours, lasting around 30 minutes. It begins when the ring of the sun dips into the horizon and ends when the center of the circle falls 8 geometric degrees below the horizon.

The brightest stars and planets will begin to appear in the sky during civil twilight. This period is so bright that photographers often don’t need any external illumination or flashes, making it perfect for handheld photography. You might also notice the warm and the cool tones mixing with each other. This juxtaposition can create compelling imagery if you manage to capture it.

3 - Nautical Twilight

Nautical twilight is the 30 minutes before the sun has risen in the morning, and the 30 minutes after the sun has set in the evening. The center of the sun should be around six and twelve geometric degrees below the horizon.

During this time, the sky is a deep blue streaked with yellow and orange vestiges of a freshly set sun. while there might be some brightness left over, you might need external lighting during nautical twilight. Any surrounding sources of artificial light, such as fires and lights from nearby buildings, might accent the subjects of your photos in interesting ways.

This is also the perfect time to capture silhouettes; the juxtaposition of the dark against the sky might create beautiful imagery that emphasizes the shape and contour of the subject.

4 - Astronomical Twilight

When the sun’s center dips between 12 and 18 geometric degrees, you enter what is known as astronomical twilight. This is the final 30 minutes before nighttime officially begins in the evening, and the first 30 minutes after it has officially ended in the morning.

We suggest using a tripod during astronomical twilight. While there might be some light leftover, it will fade fast. However, this period is when cities come to life and start lighting up. Cityscapes and urban photography really shine during this period of the day. The sky will be dark blue and dotted with stars if you’re away from the city. If you want to capture some details, you might need some external lighting or to take advantage of artificial light sources.

Final Thoughts

Twilight is a wonderful time of day for any photographer. Whether you’re shooting in the morning or the evening, on the beach or in the city, or just from the window of your apartment, the fact remains: you can make beautiful imagery with enough skill.

If you’re looking for a real estate photographer to help you with twilight photos, send us at Pegasus Ground & Air a message. We also do real estate photography to make sure the beauty of your listing is maximized.

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