The Edge of Darkness

29/01/2014 - 16:43

The Edge of Darkness



The coming of night is an opportunity to photograph a transition zone, the brief border of day and night (this also applies to the pre-dawn light too, but in reverse order). It can be an enchanting experience to make photos in this fleeting time. If we are lucky we may still see a glimpse of the afterglow light upon the clouds or water - whilst the rich deep blue of the sky slowly cloaks the world in darkness.




Urban landscapes, such as city scenes work well with the addition of lit buildings, car tail light trails, train lights and neon signs – all seeming more clear and vivid than in the daytime, as they are contrasted with the darkening sky



'Eastbound' - light trails from an eastbound train in the evening's early twilight, at Plymouth Station



Harbours and docklands are also a good place to venture, brightly painted trawlers & cranes and harbour lights can be a delightful combination.



'RNAD Ernesettle'  - Ernesettle Armaments Depot jetty in the twilight  (Plymouth side of the Tamar Estuary)



It is prudent to have an idea or two already in mind for potential compositions in the evolving twilight, there isn’t time to ‘umm and ahh’ about vistas that offer lots of ‘points of view’. Focussing your lens is easier too in the earlier stages of twilight. By late twilight you may have to use manual focus, as autofocus is likely to struggle – a torchlight briefly shone on your focal point can help you fine tune your focus if needed (remember to lock this focus!)



'Those moments...' - the afterglow of a vibrant sunset lights the skies over Brixham Harbour & Torbay on a summer’s evening.




Civil twilight starts at the moment the sun sinks beyond the horizon and lasts for generally 30 to 45 minutes. The land and water (rivers, lakes, oceans) retain a dim daylight ambience.




'Fleet'  - at Brixham docks in Devon, during early civil twilight





This is the time when you will hopefully get some ‘afterglow’ light  - a broad high arch of of often rosy light appearing in the sky due to very fine particles of dust suspended in the high regions of the atmosphere.




'Aeon Flux' - afterglow light at Wembury Bay in Devon, about 15 or so munites into civil twilight





An afterglow may appear above the highest clouds in the hour of deepening twilight, or reflected from the high snowfields in mountain regions long after sunset. This usually appears around ten minutes or so after sunset and depending on atmospheric conditions and altitude can last quite some time.




'Echoes from the Occident' - the afterglow of sunset colours the high altitude clouds above Heybrook Bay, Devon




If the sky to the eastern side is clear, the Earth's shadow is visible (in the opposite half of the sky to the sunset or sunrise), and is seen right above the horizon as a dark blue band. Another phenomenon is the "Belt of Venus" or "anti-twilight arch" a pink band that is visible above the dark blue of the Earth's shadow, in the same part of the sky. The Earth's shadow and the Belt of Venus blend into each other. Depending on the cloud formations at twilight, it is possible to witness the earth’s shadow growing.


With the heralding of dawn, the Earth's shadow is seen in the western area of the sky. The Earth's shadow will be seen to set as the sun itself rises.






'Eventide' - Climber Jonathan Hawker gazes across the Vale of Widecombe towards Hamel Down in the lingering post-sunset afterglow light,  on the west face of Bonehill Rocks on Dartmoor.


“In the ultimate stillness
Light penetrates the whole realm;
In the still illumination,
There pervades pure emptiness.
When I look back on the
Phenomenal world,
Everything is just
Like a dream.”

Han-shan Te-Ch'ing




The term ‘gloaming’,  is an old English word for this transition between night and day, appears often in poetry, prose and literature written about the twilight.



'Painted is the Occident' - a view across Sutton Harbour in Plymouth, during civil twilight



“The gloaming comes, the day is spent,
The sun goes out of sight,
And painted is the occident
With purple sanguine bright.”

Alexander Hume





Nautical twilight, is the when the brightest stars begin to appear – it was the time when ancient mariners could first see the stars to aid them with their navigation.  Most streetlights will automatically come on at this point.  Much of the sunset’s remnant colours will have disappeared by now, maybe a patch of it left here and there.  The sky is now a deep (often turquoise tinged) blue, its luminance is greatest towards where the sun has set. 




Astronomical twilight is the final stage.  The number of visible stars increases vastly, with a fading section of twilight remaining along the horizon, briefly, until night commences.



'Pier into the Twilight' - Paignton Pier in the astronomical twilight (no stars though, as it was a bit misty out to sea!)



Twilight is shortest around the Spring and Summer Equinoxes.During the summer, the period of twilight is longest.  A hint of  astronomical twilight can be seen a long way from the location of the sunset, occassionally longer than an hour after sunset.




During the winter, the twilight is longer than at the equinoxes, though shorter than at summer the summer.  The variations in twilight are due to the changing angle of the Earth's axis to the Sun, as the Earth orbits the Sun over a year. 




"The very word 'gloaming' reverberates, echoes - the gloaming, the glimmer, the glitter, the glisten, the glamour - carrying in its consonants the images of houses shuttering, gardens darkening, grass-lined rivers slipping through the shadows...”


Joan Didion











Dominique MacLellan
29/01/2014 - 22:44
Thank you! Very informative a lovely photographs!

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