Most people are familiar with the term Golden Hour – used to describe that time just after the sun rises or just before it sets. The light is soft, extraordinary and sought out by many. However, if you pack up your gear when the sun drops below the horizon, you are missing out on another magical time!
Also known as twilight, Blue Hour refers to that time of the day just before or after the Golden Hour. Depending on your location, it may be shorter (or longer) than an hour but happens before sunrise or after sunset. If you want to capture images of this amazing time of day, here are a few tips to help you get started.
1. Timing is everything
There is a unique quality of light available at blue hour. The sky has a vivid hue of blue and purple. Perhaps even hints of your fallen sunset, cresting sunrise colors: yellow, orange and red. In either case, the sun is below the horizon, but its light is indirect and still visible. If you are shooting cityscapes after sunset, wait for the lights to come on and for the sky to darken a little, so you can shoot longer exposures.
As mentioned above, depending on your location your Blue “Hour” will vary. If you are closer to the equator, both the Golden and Blue “Hours” are shorter. Similarly, you have more shooting time when further away from the equator. Blue Hour times vary by season and, depending on the time of year and location, may not even occur immediately before or after the Golden Hours. There are locations where blue hour happens up to forty-five minutes after sunset!
When in an unfamiliar environment (e.g. traveling), one option is to get there early and wait. There are also apps and websites available to help you determine Blue Hour based on location. If you use the latter, scouting your environment beforehand still proves useful.
2. Keep it steady
You may get away with shooting sunrises and sunsets without a tripod, but it is non-negotiable for blue hour. This is especially true if you want to shoot cityscapes with a smaller aperture (to get those beautiful starbursts). A tripod is a must for long exposures and allows you to shoot at lower ISOs, thus reducing noise in your images.
You can further reduce camera shake by using a remote shutter release. This useful gadget helps you minimize touching the camera. If you do not have a remote, use your camera’s timer, so that the image is taken a few seconds after you press the shutter button.
Bonus tip: Long exposures use more battery power, so pack a few spares.
3. What settings?
There is some flexibility when it comes to Blue Hour photography, depending on your subject.
If you are shooting a cityscape or skyline, most likely you want to keep your buildings sharp. In an image like this, your depth of field (f-number) will determine your settings. You can start at f/8 and go higher – keeping in mind that a higher f-number means a slower shutter speed.
If you are shooting light trails from cars against your blue sky, your shutter speed will determine your settings. This interesting subject comes to life with slower shutter speeds. On the other hand, if you want to freeze action in your Blue Hour, you need faster shutter speeds. Due to the lower light available during Blue Hour, this may mean shooting at lower f-numbers and increasing your ISO.
Blue hour is a beautiful part of the day that is often overlooked for the more popular Golden Hour. It is an amazing time to experiment with different captures and challenge yourself to work quickly in your limited “hour”. Plan ahead and envision your outcome, so you can maximize this time of day. Cityscapes and other subjects can come alive due to the unique quality of light available. Experiment, have fun and share some of your Blue Hour photography below.