Blue Hour: The Photographer’s Guide

The period when the sun is just below the horizon is commonly referred to as the “blue hour” and comes directly before or after golden hour depending on the time of day. While most people know the benefits of the golden hour for photography, the blue hour is often overlooked when thinking about optimal lighting conditions.

This guide will explain blue hour, when it happens and how to use blue hour to your advantage as a photographer.

Contents

What is Blue Hour and why is it useful?

Similar to golden hour, blue hour is not exactly one hour. Instead, it varies depending on location, weather, and time of year. Generally speaking, the blue hour is about half an hour before sunrise and after sunset, when the light takes on a blue color. There is no exact definition of when the blue hour begins and ends, although some websites state that the blue hour ends when nautical twilight (when the sun is 12 degrees below the horizon ) begin.

On a more scientific level, the blue hour occurs because of the absorption of Chappuis. This principle is based on the fact that red light wavelengths travel through space while blue light with shorter wavelengths is scattered through the atmosphere. This means that most wavelengths of blue light reach the Earth’s surface when the sun is just below the horizon, creating the effect we call blue hour.

The blue hour is particularly sought after by photographers because of its soft, moody light. There are no harsh shadows and most blue hour scenes don’t have a particularly high dynamic range. While the golden hour can conjure up a warm and calming mood, the blue hour is often the opposite – a cold and eerie hour. However, perhaps one of the biggest reasons to shoot at blue hour is that you’re almost guaranteed to have fewer people if you’re in a popular location than at golden hour. It’s more peaceful and easier to be creative with fewer people rushing to get “the cliché”.

A final advantage of blue hour is that it is not as weather-dependent as golden hour. Golden hour requires sunlight to get the warm, bright light that photographers love, but blue hour can be cloudy and still a great time for photography. In fact, clouds often make blue hour landscapes more interesting.

When is Blue Hour?

Blue hour is even less defined than golden hour, nor are the exact hours of the day. Typically the blue hour is around 30 minutes before sunrise and after sunset, but you can always give yourself more time to be safe. You can find the sunrise and sunset times for your location by simply looking them up on a search engine. It’s important to note that different locations will have different sunrise and sunset times, so keep that in mind if you’re traveling.

If you prefer to have all your information in one place, there are useful photography planning apps, such as PhotoPills and The Photographer’s Ephemeris (also a web app) that will tell you the sunrise and sunset times for each day, as well as the blue of the hours which correspond to these.

While the apps give you a good idea, each uses a different metric to gauge when the blue hour “starts and stops,” so you can give yourself room at either end.

Point: If you plan to do lunar photography during the blue hour or astrophotography in real night, most planning apps will help you point out the location of the moon and stars at different times.

Blue Hour Photography Tips

Balance cool tones with warm tones using artificial lights. Whether it’s a cityscape or someone shining a headlamp into the sky, there’s a point during the blue hour when the brightness of artificial lights will match the brightness of the overall scene. It’s a short window, and it may be some of the most stunning images only possible during the blue hour.

Don’t overexpose. Some of the blue hour magic lives in the shadows, and overexposing your image will take that magic away. While everyone is entitled to their own exposure preferences, keep in mind that the blue hour is a darker time of day and your exposures may be slightly darker than normal to preserve the effect of sunlight. blue hour.

Experiment with long exposure. The blue hour is the perfect time to learn long exposure. You can still see everything around you (and on your camera), but it’s usually dark enough to use multi-second shutter speeds during the blue hour. Moving water, clouds, people, planets, stars, and the moon are just a few subjects you might want to consider for your long exposure efforts. Be sure to use a tripod for most long exposures, which is covered in the following tip.

Think of a tripod. The blue hour is starting to get quite dark, and if you want to avoid having to use a high ISO, consider using a tripod for your blue hour photography. This will allow you to use longer shutter speeds without blurring caused by shaky hands. A tripod also opens up possibilities for much longer exposures of several seconds (see above).

Learn more about Bulb Mode. Sometimes blue hour lighting conditions are so dark that your longest shutter speed (usually 30 seconds) won’t let in enough light, especially if you’re using your narrowest aperture and ISO sensitivity. the weakest. In this case, you’ll want to use Bulb mode if your camera has it, which allows you to keep the camera shutter open as long as the shutter button is pressed.

Think about moods. The blue hour evokes atmospheres different from those of daytime photographs. Uniform, cool-toned light can be soothing, unsettling, eerie, and melancholy, to name a few. Keep these moods in mind when shooting during the blue hour and aim to capture more than one of these moods (or moods you choose) in your images. It will set a certain direction and keep you true to the uniqueness the blue hour has to offer.

Stay late or arrive early for golden hour. If you are there or are going to be there already, you can also photograph the sunrise or the sunset and capture the magic light of the golden hour. If you really don’t feel like taking more pictures, sit back, relax and enjoy seeing other colors.

Tips for Editing Blue Hour Photography

Learn to read a histogram. Especially at times like blue hour when it’s important to preserve shadows, your camera’s LCD isn’t always the best way to tell if your image is too bright or too dark. A camera’s histogram is basically a graph of your image’s values ​​and will help you determine if your image is too bright or too dark with minimal guesswork.

Pay attention to your white balance. This makes sense for blue hour photography – make sure you keep the “blue” in the “blue hour”. It’s okay if your image looks cooler than it normally would, and in fact, that’s one of the “cool” things about the blue hour. It’s ultimately up to you, but know that you don’t need to make your image look warmer than it naturally was.

Use graduated filters and more localized adjustments if needed. Especially if you’re shooting a cityscape or something similar, chances are some parts of your image will be noticeably brighter or darker than others. This is where you can use graduated filters and other spot adjustments to adjust specific areas of your image. Although this applies less to blue hour than to golden hour, it is still something you should consider.

Consider a light vignette to add to the mood of your image, but don’t overdo it. Many photographers will add a slight vignette to blue hour landscape images to enhance the desired mood. It may be tasteful, but be careful and err on the side of vignette. Too much vignette can make an image look sticky and too unnatural.

Zoom in to check sharpness and sharpen if needed. Especially if you’re not using a tripod, it’s easy to get slight motion blur in your footage. If this is an acceptable amount of blurring, you can try to sharpen your image using software such as Adobe Lightroom or Topaz Sharpen AI. It’s always good to check while zooming in, especially if you think you can print your image on a large scale.

Conclusion

As Golden Hour’s lesser-loved cousin, Blue Hour opens up a whole new set of generally fun moods, scenes, and photography. If you plan to photograph the sunrise or sunset, you might as well arrive early or stay late to explore the blue hour and its possibilities. As a welcome bonus, you’ll find that the blue hour attracts smaller crowds and can be even prettier than sunrise or sunset. This is the perfect time for portraits, landscapes, cityscapes, and even astrophotography if the conditions are right.

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