Michael Breitung Photography


Time Blending Tutorial

A few weeks ago, on the way back from my yearly Waterfall Workshop I made the usual stop in Heidelberg to photograph sunset. Since I had photographed this scene a couple of times already, I wanted to try something different and combine the view of the city during sunset and twilight in one photo. To achieve this I used a technique called Time Blending.

Time Blending

Some of you might be familiar with the term Time Blending. It’s a special exposure blending technique, which is usually used to combine several photos of the same scene that have been taken over an extended period of time. Typical examples are the combination of a blue hour photo with a photo taken at night – with the stars or the Milky Way in the frame. Or a combination of a sunset photo with a twilight or blue hour photo of a city.

An example for a time blended night photo is the one I took in the Erg Chigaga back in 2019. To achieve the highest possible quality and capture as many details as possible, I spent more than 90 minutes taking photos that morning, which I later combined to create this time blending called Desert Nights. You will find an in depth photo editing tutorial for this photo in the tutorials section of this homepage.

The Milky Way over the Desert of Morocco

What I wanted to do in Heidelberg though was the latter: I wanted the sun with light from just before sunset and the city lights with the lit up Heidelberg Castle in one photo.

In the field

To achieve this I arrived well before sunset and took my time to find the perfect spot and properly composed my photo. Then I just sat there and waited, enjoying the beautiful evening.

Just before the sun vanished behind the hills in the background I took the first set of photos. The moment before the sun dips behind the horizon is the perfect time to capture a beautiful sunstar, as I did here by using a small aperture. Depending on the lens you use you can experiment with apertures of f/16 to f/22. Be aware though that the smaller the aperture, the less sharp your photo will look due to an effect called diffraction. That’s why I usually stop down just to capture the area around the sun and leave a more open aperture for the rest of the image.

Sunset Panorama of Heidelberg

I also used bracketing to ensure I captured the complete dynamic range. Then I waited again, another 30 – 40 minutes until finally the castle and the city began to light up. This moment presented the perfect equilibrium between the warm glow in the sky and the artificial lights in the city.

To ensure that I would later be able to easily blend the photos I used a cable release and avoided touching the camera during the whole time.

Twilight scene from Heidelberg with the castle lit up

Photo Editing

The first step during photo editing was to do the blending for the bracketed exposures of the photo I had taken before sunset, and then the blending of the photos I had taken of the same scene during twilight.

I then first worked on the two photos that resulted from this first blending individually, applying my usual post processing workflow. The photos I show above are the result of this editing. They were also the input for the next step, the time blending.

For this combination of the photos to work it was important to have similar color and brightness in both photos. I was able to adjust minor differences during the time blending, but it really helps, if the starting material is already similar. In this case the warm glow in the sky of the photo taken during twilight nicely blends with the sunset sky. Same goes for the orange light on the castle.

In the following video I show you exactly how I did the time blend.

It’s certainly a matter of taste, if such a photo, which bends reality, is to your liking or not. But from time to time it’s good to experiment and also go a little beyond the boundaries of a natural photo. The important thing for me is that what I show in this photo was all there. I might not have been able to capture it in one frame, but it’s my experience of that whole evening compressed into one photo.

Time Blending of Sunset and Twilight photo

In those terms Time Blending is just a tool to compress time and to capture what a person might experience over an extended period of time – just as video does. And it opens up new ways to be creative with photography.