The Edge of Light: TappTips Part 1

May 20, 2010

Photo Tips

Sedona Sunset © Eddie Tapp

[Editors Note: This week we have Eddie Tapp on a weeklong series titled “The Edge of Light” which is a series of articles on seeing light. We’ll have one article day starting today Sunday, and continuing all the way thru Saturday!]

The 20 degree rule

Sunsets will naturally have a warmer color temperature while a sunrise will commonly be on the cooler side. When using white balance setting in the camera during the first or last 20 degrees of sunrise/sunset, set your camera to a Daylight preset or use somewhere between 4500K and 6500K rather than creating a custom WB for these times.


Beautiful twilight is found after the sun goes down in the western sky. You’ll also find twilight in the southern and northern sky right at sunset, but the western sky yields the most exciting light-dramatic hues created a few minutes after sunset and last for 7 to 10 minutes but there are three or four minutes of totally blissful twilight to shoot in especially with little or no clouds in the sky.

The key is to wait, watch, test … and shoot.

Atlanta 2000 Twilight © Eddie Tapp


When you get into a shaded area, pay close attention to your light source and surroundings. If you are in the shade of a tree with blue sky and green grass, the light color temperature can be a little tricky and custom white balancing is recommended. Shade from a cloudy day is more preferred as it yields beautiful and consistent color temperature.

Direct Sunlight

Ansel Adams was instrumental in developing and using what is known as the Zone System. Basically he would over expose in the camera to get detail in the shadows and under develop the film to keep detail in the highlights and by using the Zone System would accomplish a very high dynamic range of tonal values. Viewing images Ansel Adams created in 1923 show this technique was mastered back then. Today, using the digital chip, you must be careful not to over expose the highlight region as the digital process can not retrieve completely blown out areas, however, well accomplished retouching expert can manufacture detail back in and can be expensive. Use your Histogram to check your exposure and make sure you have a toe to the mountain on the right side (highlights).


Direct sunlight will generate high contrast and to me, in itself is perhaps the most beautiful light you could possibly shoot in for many images…

Moon Light

Dancing in the moon light… Reflecting moon light in the ocean or scene can generate exciting images and certainly worth trying various exposures and coordinating with twilight just after sunset or dawn’s morning light.

Moon Light Yosemite - 2 days before full moon - 17 minutes at f/4.5 ISO-100 © Eddie Tapp

Scenes lighted with Moon light as the light source will require manual settings for your exposure and the moon’s phase, i.e. full, Quarter, etc., will determine your f/stop and shutter speed. A full moon bright scene may require 8 minutes at f/8 using ISO 100 settings. A Quarter Moon may require 1.5 hours at f/8 using ISO 100 settings.

NOTE: Depending on your camera make and model, you may have to use a viewfinder light blocker, a tiny shade that flips up in the viewfinder window to keep stray light from seeking in the rear of the camera causing flair on a very long exposure.

Photographing the moon itself is quite different and for a full moon try 1/125 sec at f/16 at ISO 100.

The following link was designed for film and I haven’t tried it just yet, but this is a very interesting calculator for moonlight exposures… give it a try…

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This post was written by:

- who has written 10 posts on The Digital Photo Experience.

Eddie Tapp is an award-winning photographer, lecturer, consultant, and author on digital imaging issues. With over 25 years of experience in computer technology, Eddie has been actively involved in educating and consulting corporations, studios and agencies in the applications of digital imaging workflow, color management, pre-press and digital photography globally through workshops, seminars, on-site consulting and training. He’s the author of Photoshop Workflow Setups and Practical Color Management, the first two in a series, Eddie Tapp on Digital Photography, published by O’Reilly Media.

Contact the author

3 Responses to “The Edge of Light: TappTips Part 1”

  1. erno james Says:

    what a fantastic article with even more fantastical (if that’s a real word, i’m using it) images to support it. great job. erno.


  2. Matthew Norris Says:

    Wow! The photo in the Yosemite valley is amazing. To be honest the possibility of shooting landscapes under moonlight has never even occured to me.
    I can’t wait to try it out. Thanks for the tips.


  3. Eddie Tapp Says:

    Thank you and you are both most welcome… Eddie


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