Lori Carey Photography

Friday, February 8, 2013

Clear Skies

Joshua Tree silhouette at twilight

Nothing is more disappointing to a landscape photographer than to spend several hours venturing into the wild only to have a boring sunset and sunrise. Of course we want those cloudless skies for starscape photography but that same cloudless sky at dawn or sunset is a terrible let down. It's enough to make some photographers pack their bag and head back to camp.

I like to use those opportunities to capture the subtle gradation of colors in the sky at twilight. Twilight is actually one of my favorite times to shoot because I like the watch the sky turn from day to night, or from night to day. I love the beautiful purple color in the sky that can be captured in the evening just before it gets dark. And I especially love to hear the birdsong at dawn announcing the new day as I am working.

One of my favorite techniques at twilight is a silhouette as in the photo above. Simple compositions usually work best for silhouettes and convey the sense of peace that I feel at this time of day. Trees, rock formations, buildings, people, anything that conveys the sense of place can work well. The key to a good silhouette photograph is to meter for the sky and let the shadows go completely black. This usually means underexposing from what your camera will tell you is the correct exposure (if you are using evaluative metering).

The clear crisp desert air usually shows a well-defined Belt of Venus or earthshadow, especially at dawn, as in the image below. The pinkish glow is the anti-twilight arch and the darker layer below is the earth's shadow on the atmosphere. For this image I waited until there was just enough light peeking over the horizon to provide light on the Joshua Trees in the foreground. Metering is a little trickier when the sun is this close to the horizon because unless you intend to merge multiple bracketed images (HDR) you will need to carefully weigh the exposure on the foreground with the exposure for the sky to bring out the best in both and avoid under/over exposing either. It can help to bracket several frames to find the sweet spot if you aren't used to shooting at this time of day so you can evaluate them more closely once you are back home and looking at them on a big screen.

Joshua Trees and earth shadow at dawn, Mojave Desert

So don't let those clear skies get you down, hang around before the sun has risen or after it sets and look for opportunities to play up the beautiful gradations of color in the sky.

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