Twilight is a great time to photograph wildlife, as it is still light enough to see them, but dark enough to mix flash and ambient light. Also, the colors of twilight can often add a preternatural element to your nighttime wildlife photos. For the image of the great blue heron below, I positioned the camera so that the last part of the sky still glowing faintly with light from sunset was reflected in the waters around the bird. Waiting for a moment when the heron stood perfectly still, I triggered a several second exposure to capture the faint ambient light, firing a flash to illuminate the heron. Although the water appears smooth, it was in fact rippled by a slight breeze. The long exposure blurred the rippled water, but you can actually see the reflection of the ripples frozen in time by the flash on the heron itself (the horizontal stripes on the bird). This is what I like most about long exposure photography, the mix of stop action and motion blur, which if handled correctly can be very expressive and can create a sense of motion and energy.
I used just enough flash to reveal some texture and detail in the bird. It is important not to use too much flash, as the animal can appear unnaturally bright compared to its background. The flash also makes the heron's eyes "glow," imparting a feral look to the animal. Although not appropriate for every wildlife shot, I think that the glowing eye look can add interest to night scenes, and can provide a visual cue to the viewer that the image was taken in low light.
I'll be posting more night images in the coming months along with lots of informative text (it will be a series of sorts), but in the meantime feel free to check out some of my other night work in the Nocturnal gallery on my website.
Chasing the Light: Essential Tips for Taking Great Landscape Photos: My downloadable PDF eBook filled with informative text, stunning full-color images, and plenty of insights and inspiration.
Sign up for my monthly newsletter, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook using the links below.