The Speed of Light

I really enjoy shooting city scenes after the sun goes down.


    The Twilight Zones:

There is no better time for shooting urban landscapes at or around civil and nautical twilight. That's the time of the day when the brightness of the sky balances well with the artificial light from buildings, street-lamps and car lights resulting in beautiful dark blue skies. Once you hit astronomical twilight you do not have enough light in the sky to match the city lights and it turns black.

The rule for the different twilight zones is based on the solar elevation angle, which is the position of the geometric center of the sun relative to the horizon. (Source: Wikipedia).

A much easier method to define the twilight zones for a given day is the $1.99 iPhone app Darkness, one of my most used apps and prominently located on page 1 on my iPhone.

    White-Balance:

After the sun goes down, I always switch my white-balance to tungsten as the artificial lights in the streets and buildings are of a very warm color. Most of the time, I have to cool it down even more in post-processing to get the pavement to a neutral gray. The side effect is that the sky turns into a very saturated blue without boosting any vibrance sliders.

The photograph below was shot on November 8, 2010 at 17:47 MET which, for that day, was Civil Twilight.

The Speed of Light
    Gear and more:

You do not need expensive cameras and lenses to create photographs like the one above but you need a sturdy tripod because of the long exposures as you want to close-down your aperture to get as much depth of field as possible resulting nice starburst effects. My rule of thumb is to shoot at or around f/16 but I closed down my lens down to f/22 for that picture to get the longest possible exposure (13 seconds) to extend the light-trails of the cars driving by. You're loosing a bit of sharpness at f/22 but that was ok for me here.