Sunset is very early this time of year, which makes this the perfect time to head out for dusk and after-dark shots in the late afternoon and evening. What sorts of things can you shoot without bright sunlight? Well, the same things you might shoot at midday—just with different techniques. Here are a few interesting ways to take advantage of winter’s short days in order to make some unique photographs this time of year.
Magic Hour And Sunset
Unlike summer, which delays the sunset until long after dinner is done, a 4:30 sunset isn’t unheard of near the winter solstice, which means you can take pictures during business hours and still take advantage of magic hour light. If you live way up north, you may not want to shoot outdoor portraits in the cold, but for those of us who live south of the Mason-Dixon line, the weather may still be warm enough to make outdoor portraits feasible even in December and January—and that means beautiful, warm, golden magic hour light. You can face a subject toward the setting sun for warm direct illumination, or shoot into that setting sun to make the most of the backlight and attractive flare, with a reflector to illuminate the subject’s face. If it’s too cold out, that warm sunset light works indoors, too—as long as you’ve got a western window nearby. It’s also the perfect time of year for landscape and still-life shooters who simply want to make pretty sunset photos without waiting until bedtime.
Interested in shooting landscapes, architecture or other outdoor scenics? Dusk and the darkness that falls early in winter present the perfect opportunities for long exposure photography. Dusk is the perfect time to photograph architectural exteriors and landscapes, particularly when the sky still glows deep blue and the exterior and interior lights of a structure create a warm/cool contrast that makes these evening images particularly interesting. More than that, the low light offers a chance to get playful with long exposures by capturing moving lights that make interesting blurs and shapes in your images. Even if you’re not into landscapes or architecture, these light blurs can be abstracts that turn into the subjects themselves. You can find them by photographing moving lights from cars, for instance, which can add a touch of energy via light streaks in an otherwise normal scenic, or by focusing on the streaks alone to make interesting abstract images. Another option for long exposures—particularly if there are manmade lights around—is to add a bit of fill flash to a subject moving through an illuminated scene, which will create an incredibly interesting photograph just by combining the motion-stopping power of a flash with the light-blurring effects of a long exposure.
High ISO Photography
We live in an unprecedented time for photographers. Just 15 years ago the thought of making an after-dark ambient exposure—that is, one without the aid of additional light sources—meant resorting to long exposures, no matter what. But with the advent of camera sensors that capture incredibly low-noise images at ridiculously high ISO settings (such as ISO 25,000 and beyond), photographers can now shoot images of moving subjects—such as human beings doing any number of the interesting things that we do—without long exposures and without resorting to augmenting the light with flash. That added light changes everything; it can sap the color that often comes with ambience, or worse, the flash simply distracts the subjects and changes the whole tenor of a scene. It certainly makes it impossible for a photographer to blend in like a fly on the wall. That alone is enough reason to make high-ISO photography one of the most interesting ways of making great images after the sun goes down—no matter what your subject might be. And if you’re afraid of noise from high ISOs, you’d be well served to learn the noise-reduction features in Lightroom and Photoshop, as they make it incredibly easy to make these images without worry about distracting noise.