Cross-Lighting Twilight

‘The Deep’, Hull, East Yorkshire
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II, Canon 17-40 f/4 L USM @ 17mm, 5 seconds @ f/16, ISO 50
LEE 2-stop ProGlass ND, 3-stop ProGlass ND and 2-stop ND Grad filters.
Manfrotto 441 tripod, Manfrotto 322RC2 Heavy Duty Grip Ball Head.
Adobe Lightroom.

“One disadvantage of shooting ‘across the light’ at twilight is that the sky often looks distractingly brighter on the side of the image nearest the sun…”

Cross-Lighting Twilight

For those of us with a predilection for wild places, it can be rewarding and refreshing to turn our attention to the urban landscape. The majority of our audience will have an innate perspective of the metropolitan milieu, buildings and their component parts have an expected size and shape. Our artistic honesty is therefore unmistakably apparent, but a consequence of this is that ambiguity can be all the more powerful. With a little creative flair, our viewers suppositions can be challenged.

One way of injecting intrigue in to our urban creations is to choose unusual subjects or locations. This image has benefited from Sir Terry Farrell’s creative genius. He designed ‘The Deep’, an aquarium and sea-life centre, to echo natural forms, the biomorphic structure is reminiscent of a whale or shark emerging from the water. Such a visual metaphor, coupled with the unique architecture introduces a welcome sense of mystery.

I chose this simple composition featuring three elements; the building, the sky and the water, and then selected a viewpoint which ensured each element was rendered most effectively in the prevailing conditions and lighting. The scene was lit by the setting sun to the right side at 90-degrees to my line of view. Cross-lighting of the twilight sky offers a wonderful balance of both contrast and colour; a compromise between the spectacular contrast of shooting contre-jour (directly towards the sun) and the beautiful but often muted hues of a sky illuminated with the sunlight coming from behind us. One disadvantage of shooting ‘across the light’ at twilight is that the sky often looks distractingly brighter on the side of the image nearest the sun, this occurs especially with wide-angle lenses. The effect can easily be rebalanced at the post-processing stage. On this occasion however, the brighter right side of the image is counterbalanced by the highly reflective building which was angled into the scene like a huge mirror, producing wonderful reflections of the orange light from the setting sun in the water. I used neutral density filtration and a low ISO of 50 to provide an exposure long enough to remove distraction from the water but maintain clarity and drama in the clouds.

This article first appeared in Outdoor Photography Magazine. Reproduced with kind permission.