Blue Hour Photography

Capturing the Blue Hour(s) of the Day

There are only twenty-four hours in a day, but some of those hours are quite special, in particular when it comes to photography. Last week I talked about photographing during the golden hour(s) of the day, capturing the sunrise and sunset. Now, let’s look at blue-hour photography.

Blue hour precedes the sunrise golden hour and comes after the sunrise golden hour. During the blue hour the sky changes its colors from dark blue to rich orange (before sunrise) and the other way around, right after sunset. The range of colors and light displayed during the blue hour can be quite spectacular, offering an equally spectacular light, quality of light, that we can paint with, as photographers.

Here’s an image that captures the transition between the golden hour and the blue hour light. That is, the sunset after-glow still warms up the horizon, as the blue hour light starts settling in.

Crusing in Hawaii. Photo by Alina Oswald.
Cruising Through. Photo by Alina Oswald.

As with the golden hour, usually, the blue hour doesn’t last one hour. Depending on location, more often than not, the blue hour light can last much less than thirty minutes. During the blue hour, the red light (long wavelengths) is sent directly into space, while the blue light (short wavelengths) is scattered into the Earth’s atmosphere. Perhaps, the best quality of light during the blue hour happens when the sun is just below the horizon.

Here’s another image of Liberty State Park, taken at the end of the day, as the golden hour light was turning blue:

Photographing during the blue hour means photographing in low light. As with the golden hour light, there are blue hour calculator apps. Check them out. But apps or no apps, it’s always a good idea to scout out the place, check the weather, and decide on the best vantage point from where to photograph, as well as the subject to photograph during the blue hour. And so on.

Kauai, Hawaii, Nov-Dec 2013
Golden-hour sunset light gives way to blue-hour light, silhouetted people, and palm trees. Photo by Alina Oswald.

In order to photograph during the blue hour:

– bring a tripod

– depending on the location, bring warm clothes and maybe coffee (if photographing during the morning, or I should say at dawn)

– bring low-light wide-angle lenses as well as long(er) lenses if possible or, if nothing else, bring a kit lens would do

Sometimes we get to capture the sunrise, sunset, and the blue hour when they meet in one shot. Below, I was aiming for the lunar eclipse about to start, when I also captured a reflection of the rising sun. See below:

Lunar Eclipse NYC January 31, 2018
January 31, 2018: Blue Hour, Blue Moon. A setting blood, supermoon was entering the lunar eclipse. Across the Hudson, the sun was starting its ascend. I’ve noticed its reflection only in post, when looking through the lunar eclipse images of that early, bitter-cold morning. Photo by Alina Oswald.

And a few moments later, right after capturing the above image, there was still blue hour light to work with, as well as the lunar eclipse:

– in terms of camera settings, start by setting the ISO at 100 or 200 (native ISO), and then you can adjust the ISO up from there, as the sky is gradually turning a darker blue; shoot at a narrow aperture–no lower than f/8, shooting at f/16 or higher helps create beautiful star-burst shapes in the lights (light sources) included in the image frame, such as in the street lights or natural light sources; experiment by varying the shutter speed

Against the Wind.
Against the wind and waves in Hawaii.

Other ideas:

– include silhouettes, and colors other than blue; capture cityscapes as the city lights start coming on; capture buildings with interior and exterior lights on, etc.

Happy photographing! And, as always,

Thanks for stopping by!

Alina Oswald

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