How to Take Architectural Photography at Twilight

When it comes to ambient lighting, daytime photography provides great light for clear, crisp images. But, what about that off time when the sun is going down and casting shadows and darkness on your scene? Architectural and interiors photographer, Mike Kelley, goes through his process to create the perfect, beautiful image at twilight in this video:

Known for light painting compositions, Kelley takes a base exposure, adds different lighting and effects, including sky replacement and Photoshop curves and levels to create a multi-layered painting that is beautiful and striking.

In this video, he goes on location in Phoenix, Arizona to shoot the patio of a modern house for a custom home builder.

I’m going to focus on one of the most important shots you’ll need to take for any client in this genre and that would be the twilight exterior shot.

As it gets darker outside, ambient light levels fall and artificial light levels come up, which creates a serious element of pre-visualization when shooting at twilight. So after you’ve set the camera and angle, you need to decide how you want to light the whole scene to tie in all the features of the final image.

In order to blend our flash with the ambient light and the artificial light, we have about a five minute window where everything is going to be in the same ballpark exposure-wise.

For this shoot, Kelley explains how to make the lights on the house not look too bright, but also not to appear blown out, by adding a flash and capturing the dwindling ambient light to provide the best possible lighting for the whole scene.

Tips for shooting at twilight:

  • If you shoot too late, the artificial lights are going to be way too bright and the ambient light is going to be way too dark.
  • If you shoot too early, the artificial lights will be too dark and there will be too much sunlight getting in the way of your flashes.
  • To find the five minute window, wait until it looks like the exposure of the house lights and the ambient light are at about the same level.
  • The shutter speed, ISO and aperture should meter the same.

twilight photo

Since Kelley is often 15 to 100 feet away from the camera while shooting, he doesn’t want to keep running back to the camera to look at the shot and make sure he got the lighting he needed, so he uses a CamRanger and iPad. From the iPad, he can adjust the picture and change camera settings, including ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, without having to go back to the camera to double-check.

So to make sure that each shot is perfectly aligned, he always starts out with the sturdiest tripod. He uses Canon Tilt Shift Lenses, and he admits he frequently uses a Canon 17-40mm L.

To light the different areas of the scene, he uses a flash on a stick with 1/4 CTO gel. The flash is a 430EX II on a monopod with a Pocketwizard FlexTT5 triggered to a mini TT1 on the camera.

He uses a Pocketwizard Plus III with a remote trigger to the camera. The Plus III triggers the shutter, at which point the camera records the ambient light, the artificial house light and the flash light all at the same time.

Kelley takes his base image, the image from which everything is going to be built upon, and works from there. In this shot, there are a few dark areas so, instead of setting up multiple lights around the scene, he takes a speed light and walks around to add light, taking new photos with every lighting embellishment.

In the video, he takes us through the Photoshop steps, adding pops and highlights, including lighting the fireplace, TV, table and chairs, fixing the sky, and adding curves, contract, hue and saturation, and so on. He shows us how he combines all the images to create a final retouched, stunning image.

architecture photo

My goal isn’t so much to photograph it the way the camera sees it, but what I want to do with my photographs is create an emotion and I want to photograph it the way you feel it.

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One response to “How to Take Architectural Photography at Twilight”

  1. frank says:

    This has to be one of the most consise to the point and hands on instructive video/article published by picture correct. The technique is simple to understand and execute… so it should be straight forward to practice the post editing.

    Great article/video.

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