If you wish to take shots at night, with vibrant colors and striking results, you can take your pictures just before sunrise or after sunset, when the sky is neither completely lit, nor black already. That’s the moment when the sky “matches”, in its luminance with that of artificial lighting, creating a smooth blending of colors and hence enhancing their contrast.
In this post I’ll give you some advice on how to be prepared and how to exploit such technique.
Before you go out shooting, the first thing I suggest you to do is to take note of scheduled sunrise/sunset times. You can take a glance here: http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/sunrise.html.
In the morning, it’s then wise to show up about 40 minutes before indicated time, whereas in the evening it’s good to be at the desired location at sunset time. In the morning you can start shooting immediately, and keep on doing it until sunrise, at least for the first times while you experiment this technique. Then, with time, you’ll gain experience and learn how to immediately catch the perfect timing, just looking at the sky. Our brain is incredibly skilled in making us believe that we’re facing same lightning conditions. Actually, just a few minutes can dramitacally change how a picture looks like, though. Film (and sensors) are not as clever as we are.
Take the example here:
and notice how the scene changed in just 3 minutes; following shot has been taken after just 3 minutes, on the same day (too bad the timing of the fire show didn’t match that of a perfect light):
You can now see that all the nice details about clouds from the picture above have now vanished. And that’s just after a couple of minutes! The perfect conditions for such kind of pictures lasts about a minute, so that you better be prepared with your equipment, if you do not want to miss it.
Of course, both pictures are much better than what it could have been taken just a an hour before (this is to say how important it is lightning to photography, no matter how expensive your equipment is):
Of course, if you wait too much, you’re also going to come across not so fascinating results.
This might not be extremely bad, but they will probably lack the dramatic touch of pictures taken at the right time. Following shot has been taken 30 minutes before the one above. See how much more vivid colors are.
Usually you can get such colors between 40 and 25 minutes before sunrise/after sunset; a lot depends on your location and season, though. And, as stated above, depending on your speecific composition, the perfect lighting combination can last a couple of minutes only. It’s therefore something which definitely requires some practice, in order to get your eyes (and brain) able to spot the perfect moment when to click.