Behind the Lens: Starry Twilight, Lake Durant

by Mark Bowie | Photography

Starry Twilight, Lake Durant

Exposure Data:
30 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 800
Nikon D600 camera, Nikkor 14-24mm lens set at 22mm.

The night sky is a source of wonder to me, ever evolving. I’m constantly studying how to record its many facets in creative images. I’ve noticed, for instance, that the colors of the night sky change from the rich luminous blues of twilight and early night (whether skies are clear or cloudy), toward charcoal gray around midnight, then back to rich blues before predawn twilight. So, for really colorful night images, I want to be on-site early and very late in the night, which may mean long nights with little sleep. Leaving the camera in the field to shoot a time-lapse sequence throughout the night as I sleep works, but I prefer to experience the night for myself.

The direction we photograph also impacts our nightscapes. On clearer nights, the western sky remains brighter longer than do views to the north, east and south. Shooting west over this quiet bay of Lake Durant, my 30-second exposure captured the last colors of twilight even as the stars came out. There’s the great benefit: early in the night, as sky views to the other cardinal points go dark, to the west, light and colors linger, allowing us more time to capture them with the oncoming stars.  Scenes are brighter longer; exposures consequently less noisy. We can capture good detail simultaneously in the sky and landscape, often with a single exposure. There may be only a precious few minutes to make these images, so scouting interesting foregrounds and compositions beforehand pays off. When successful, the effect may look as if we’ve combined exposures taken at sunset or twilight with others taken much later for the stars. Shooting early has the added benefit that individual stars and constellations stand out better than when the entire sky is awash with stars.

This scene was darker than it appears here, but with the long exposure the camera saw colors and details I couldn’t, including the greens of the evergreens and the magenta clouds, all reflected with precision on this windless night. Stars peek out from behind some clouds and literally shine through others. The brightest “star,” just above the horizon and reflected in the lake, is actually planet Venus. Photographically, there are so many subtle nuances to discover at night. In them we can experience a joy and wonder the Adirondacks only reveals after dark.

Mark Bowie is a frequent contributor to Adirondack Life magazine and a much sought-after public speaker, offering presentations for conferences, camera clubs and other groups. He is a staff instructor for the Adirondack Photography Institute. His popular Adirondack night photography workshop is August 12th-16th. If interested, contact the Institute as soon as possible to register. For all of API’s 2018 workshop offerings, see Mark has authored two instructional e-books on night photography, The Light of Midnight and After Midnight, available on his website,

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