Browse any magazine or website and you’ll find that one of the more popular residential images makes use of twilight architectural photography. There’s something magical about the combination of the warm colors of the sunset bouncing off of a building’s surface with the deep blues of the sky—and often the water in the pool—as night unfolds.
I enjoy taking this kind of shot because the image can immediately draw in the viewer. But to get the right lighting, the work can be complex. Many hours of effort goes into the production of this singular image. Move the slider on the image below to see the difference.
The first thing to understand is that the light is fleeting. On a given night, I only have the ability to stage and shoot one or two shots. This is very important for my clients to understand: we have to be discerning on the composition we want to produce.
So why can’t I do more than a couple of shots? This is primarily due to the fact that I am not capturing a single exposure, or shot, of the building. Instead, I am taking multiple exposures of the subject throughout the sunset. As the sun begins to set I take the first image, which looks something like this:
While the sun goes down, I gauge the ambient light that I like to grab sky exposures and a base exposure for the final image. I then begin “light painting” the building with a strobe light or LED—this allows me to highlight sections of the house that are either underexposed or that would benefit from supplemental lighting. I then layer together the images to create the final composite image.
Throughout the sunset (anywhere from 20 minutes to one hour), I continue to take multiple exposures with and without the artificial light.
This gives me a variety of images that I can later assemble into one final composite in Photoshop—a process that can take two hours itself. Depending on my client’s tastes, this twilight photo can have either a more softer, ambient light feel indicative of early sunset or a more dramatic nightscape fully illuminated look.
So while you may be able to get a decent single exposure of a structure at sunset, this is the method that creates those awe-inspiring photos that make you want to move into that house right now.
This post featured an amazing property design by architect Ed Urbanek Designs and built by my longtime client Mattern & FitzGerald. Here are a few more before and after sliders of other twilight photos I’ve produced. If you’re interested in working with me on a project please contact me today.