I always thought that the term “twilight” was specifically for that time of day just after the sun set below the horizon but thanks to Google I found out that it can also be used for the time of the morning just before the sun comes up over the horizon. I used to really like the word twilight before it was destroyed by a series of terrible teenage vampire books.
For this journal entry we are purely talking about a magical time of the morning or evening when the light is at its best in my opinion. Do not think of pasty, sexually frustrated teens running through the forest. I’m sure everyone enjoys the golden hour when the sun is very low in the sky and every surface is painted in rich yellow light and long shadows. When I used to be a more social being I can recall memories of standing outside at a party, restaurant or some other event during the short period between sunset and darkness. The colors of the sky coupled with the ambient light from the building or home would always make me stop and consciously appreciate how incredible everything looks at that moment. When I create a Twilight Shot I’m always trying to capture that brief moment in time and document the quality of light and subtle gradients from oranges and reds all the way through the spectrum to deep blues and violets.
Most of the homes that I photograph face west so when I’m shooting them for a twilight shot the sun is behind me. This is great if I want the home to be painted in golden light but many times the light is too harsh. It’s also rare to get some nice colors on the clouds when facing East. The light show is always behind me so changing everything up and shooting in the morning for my particular location is really working for me. My normal process is to arrive at the home about 90 minutes before sunset. This gives me enough time to set up my camera and put it in place to capture the changing light over the next 2 hours. I will also supplement the scene with artificial light via a remotely triggered speedlight or flash. This allows me to paint light where it’s needed for added affect. I will capture frames well into the dark so I can properly expose for the interior lights of the home bringing out all of the detail of the home.
For this particular image I did everything in reverse order. I set my alarm for 4:00am as I wanted to be on site, set up and ready to shoot when it was still completely dark. This presented some challenges that I didn’t really consider until I was actively setting up and placing my camera and tripod. The first problem was that I didn’t bring a headlamp so I had to use the light from my phone. Placing the tripod on the edge of a narrow rock wall with water on one side and a 10 foot drop on the other in total darkness isn’t really considered safe for both me and my equipment. I would have liked to back up just a bit more so I could have Mauna Kea and the entire home in the frame but it wasn’t possible without a very large ladder.
Once the camera is in place I opened all of the doors on my side of the home. I didn’t open the doors on the opposite side as it was very windy and it would have created a wind tunnel right through the living room. Keeping the doors closed created a little pocket of calm and prevented the wind from blowing my camera rig over the edge.
Now for the lights. I turned on all the lights that would be visible to the camera. It took a little time to figure out what switch controlled what light but eventually I got it. These large resort homes all have incredibly expensive lighting systems that allow you to set a mood with one button. You can press a button labeled “Entertainment” and it will set the light levels for every light in the house to your particular lighting tastes when entertaining guests. The coolest part is the All Off button by the doorway to the garage and the master bedroom. One button will turn every light in the house off. No more running around when it’s time to leave or go to bed. I wish I had one of these buttons at my house as it seems I spend all my time following my wife and daughter around turning off lights. For those of you that live in Hawaii and pay the electric bill you know exactly what I’m talking about.
By this time the sky was still completely dark so I shot a few frames of the home with all of the lights on and played around with exposure to get it right. Now I just had to wait for the first kiss of light from the sun which wasn’t too far away. Once I could see the faint line from the edge of Mauna Kea off in the distance and the morning light it was time to jump into action. Over the next hour I fired off about 140 frames. Most of them won’t be used but it’s better to have too many as opposed to not enough. When I’m shooting I’m in most of the images as I’m running around with my flash and controlling the camera remotely with my iPad Mini that I stole from my wife. Thank you sweetie! The device that I use is called a CamRanger. It’s a small little box that you can plug into your camera and give you remote control from any tablet or smartphone. It’s an essential tool for this type of work.
It is incredible how quickly the light changes at this time of the day. There really isn’t much time to enjoy it. I’m able to capture the soft colors in the sky that aren’t very visible to the eye with a slow shutter speed. The sky gets brighter and brighter until there’s a period of flat white light that makes everything look like the set of a teenager vampire movie. It’s not very appealing but it won’t last for long. Once the sun actually rises above our beautiful Mauna Kea the colors come flooding back to life with direct sunlight.
Stay tuned for the next morning Twilight shot! I’m looking forward to the next opportunity.