For photographers, the time of day can mean the difference between a good photo and a great photo. The length of light and shadows, where the sun is in the sky, moonlight and sunlight - these all factor into how a subject will turn out in the photo.
I’ve talked about the golden hour before - the time of day that falls about one hour after the sun rises and one hour before the sun sets. But did you know there is also a blue hour? It’s just as alluring as the golden hour and provides the perfect opportunity to capture urban and cityscapes that transpire into moody, but serene scenes.
Track your local blue hour and notice how the light softens and casts a blue backdrop over landscapes and environments with artificial light sources (buildings, bridges, and city lines will sparkle in shades of blue).
When does the blue hour happen?
The blue hour unveils itself at daybreak, just before the golden hour, as well as in the evening, at the end of twilight, just after the golden hour.
According to timeanddate.com, “The blue color spectrum is most likely to emerge when the sun is between 4 and 8 degrees below the horizon. By this definition, the blue hour encompasses parts of both nautical twilight and civil twilight.”
For the purposes of this article, I won’t get into all the blue hour scientific specifics (you can learn all about those in the links above), but will instead give you some tips on how to photograph subjects during these darker stages of morning and evening twilight.
Tips for photographing the blue hour:
Pick your subject and set up ahead of time.
Because the blue hour is a specific moment in time you’ll need to plan ahead, which means you may have to wake up extra early if you want to capture the moments before daybreak. Know what your subject, angle, and viewpoint will be and set up your equipment (including a tripod for support), making sure you have time to spare. It may be called the blue hour, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have a full 60 minutes to play around with your gear and get quality photos.
Consider light levels, aperture, and shutter speeds.
Because the light levels will be low during the blue hour, you may need to adjust your ISO to a higher setting that what you normally use during daytime. If you want to capture twinkling lights, street lamps, and the like, use a wide aperture to create a soft, magical effect. A small aperture is more conducive for photographing a landscape in detail. If you want to photograph movement, like traffic, use a shutter speed over five seconds to capture a trail of light. You can use an even longer exposure time to exaggerate light trails and cloud movement.
Shoot the planets. You can use the planet tracker on Time and Date to find when Venus - the evening star - or any other planet is visible during the blue hour and give it a feature spot in your twilight photograph.
Shoot in RAW or TIFF. Doing so will allow you to enhance the cool blue colors in the photograph during the processing stage.
Enjoy the process. It may take you a few times of practicing blue hour photography before you get the images you want, but that’s all part of the process. Experiment with your settings, take photos in both the morning and evening twilight, change landscapes to see which photograph best. But most importantly, don’t give up!
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