At Christmas, the Hotel del Coronado by San Diego is emblazoned with lights. Lots of “magical” lights makes this a great subject for a dusk shot. (BTW: Even though It’s Christmas, It’s the subject that should be well-lit not the photographer!)
It took one hour and two rolls of film to get this shot of Horton Plaza in San Diego. I set up beforehand with my tripod on 24mm lens. Then, as the sun went down, I took a group of photos every five minutes. Within each group, I took a set of shots at different exposures (the recommended exposure, +1/2 stop, +1 stop, +1.5 stop) with no filter, and the same with an FL-D magenta filter. The aim is to get capture the light of the sky when It’s about the same brightness as that of the subject. The winning shot above is shot was taken at 25 minutes after sunset, at +1 stop over the meter’s the recommended exposure, and with the FL-D filter (which adds purple to the sky and reduces the greenness of the mall lighting).
Many of my favorite photographs are taken at dusk. This is a magical moment when cameras can produce images even better than the human eye can see in real life. The delicate mix of natural and artificial light creates romantic, colorful and fascinating scenes.
The key element of dusk photography is timing. You want the brightness of the sky to equal the brightness of the artificial lights. During dusk, the sky’s light level is descending rapidly and you only have a window of a few minutes to capture the perfect mix. This occurs about 10-30 minutes after sunset. Any earlier and you won’t capture those lovely dusk colors. Any later and the sky loses color and will appear black, which is a waste.
You could use a light meter to continually measure the light level but I find it easier just to shoot a whole roll of film over the 20-30 minute range and pick out the best shot.
This is low-light photography so a good tripod is a must. Automatic exposure works fine, but I take additional shots with +1/2 and +1 stops of exposure just in case. Filters aren’t necessary but I like to add a nice purple warmth to the sky by using an FL-D (magenta) filter. This also counteracts the green color of any tungsten lighting in the shot. A ’saturated’ setting on your camera captures the richest colors.
Find a subject that is evenly lit and decorated with artificial light. Set up early, around sunset, and wait patiently for the perfect light.