Low light photography is special because the high contrast of the images that you can make at this time of day, intensifies the sense of luminosity. Simply put, you need the dark to be able to see the light.
Besides, it is a joy to venture out with your camera when the sun is low and the clouds are creating sweeping patterns. And the sense of mystery which you find towards the day's end when there is a hush over the world is yet another reason.
The shot below is the view from my house which stands at the top of a valley in a small village in France. My camera was set to RAW and black and white. This meant that I could see what the image was going to be like in monochrome by using LiveView and the LCD screen.
Choosing the RAW setting allowed me to use the full range of tones and convert it to black and white afterwards using the Channel Mixer in Photoshop. This is a superior method to the software in the camera and will maximise the tonal range - particularly important if you plan on printing your images at some stage.
Above: Sunset, Chantillac, France
© Anne Darling 2013 All right reserved. Contact me for permission to use.
I used spot metering and took a reading from the sky which I knew would underexpose the trees and the land mass. However, it's easier to retrieve detail from an underexposed area than an overexposed area as blown-out highlights have actually lost the detail altogether.
You can use Levels, Curves or Shadow/Highlights in Photoshop or other software to bring back some of the highlights in the lower third of the picture which was virtually all black.
I use ACDSee Pro which has a Lighting tool with a set of sliders. This lets me tweak the lighting over nine separate tonal bands. I also opened the image in Photoshop afterwards and used the Dodge tool (set to Highlights) to intensify the light on the road. This was totally absent in the original but I felt it was important to the overall composition.
I confess that I also used the Clone tool to remove the telegraph wire as it ran from left to right across the picture and totally ruined the mood I was trying to create. Cheating? I don't think so. I am making a picture, not documenting an event, so any and all methods are allowed!
Finally, I gave it a slight sepia tone using one of the Effects in ACDSee Pro but not to much as I think it is important not to overdo toning, it needs to be subtle. I hope you like the final result!
If you enjoyed reading this article you might also like Part 2 of low light photography.