What is The Blue Hour and How To Get it Right

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

Many tips and tricks are given to new photographers with regards to lighting and the time of the day is an essential idea. Especially so for getting the best shots of landscapes and dynamic shots of light at twilight or early morning. 

This is the time usually just before the sun rises or just after the sun sets.

The light is very soft then and it emphasizes the dark of any scene while leaving it bright enough so that you don’t need an extra artificial light to get great pictures. This time is often called the Blue hour and it’s the natural time of the day, vastly popular with photographers.

What is Blue Hour?

Blue hour is the time of the day when the sky is blue or dark blue while the time after that depends on the time of day - whether you are shooting at sunrise or sunset. It’s called the blue hour because this period of that specific blue hue lasts for about an hour - more likely 30 to 40 minutes. The duration can also depend on the season or the location.

Here is when you can get those shots:

  • Sunrise - This is the part of the day when the blue hour starts 30 minutes before sunrise and the peak of the hour is about 10 minutes before sunrise. During sunrise, this light disappears quickly.
  • Sunset - During sunset the blue hour starts about 10 to 15 minutes after the sun sets and it will give you great shots. It gives you more time to work with and you can easily set up your location and equipment.

For more accurate and exact times, there are websites that will help you find the blue hour for any location and they will tell you the duration so you can prepare. If there is an overcast on the sky, the blue hour will be shorter.

In some instances, clouds can wash out the blue hour completely.

What To Capture 

Blue hour is the perfect time to shoot:

  • Cityscapes
  • Landscapes
  • Scenic beaches

“The shots do require longer exposure and slow shutter speed. This means that you won’t be able to take pictures of people or something moving so easily. It can make the picture blurry. But the light can be amazing to bring out the life of the landscapes,” says Linda Beckett, a blogger at Uktopwriters and Bestaustralianwriters

Why Capture Blue Hour

Here are some reasons why you should be capturing pictures during the blue hour: 

  • Creativity in capturing movement: Blue hour photos require long exposures and a slow shutter speed, as mentioned but you can use the long exposure to be creative in capturing movements. The best part is capturing light trails of vehicles when taking pictures of cityscapes. If it’s cloudy, you can capture the movement of the clouds as a drag effect as well. When capturing beaches, the wave movement can be really dreamy too.
  • It’s easy to control the parameters: Capturing shots in blue hour is quite simple and easy and it’s a lot more interesting than taking pictures during brighter conditions. With the right gear, it’s easy to control all of the parameters and compose the perfect shots. Bright sunny days may create overexposure and some burnt spots is you don’t have the proper control over the light sources.

Equipment You Will Need For Capturing Blue Hour

Here are some of the essentials you will need for blue hour:

  • DSLR which is essential for any picture. The better it is the better will be the performance of noise in long exposures.
  • A tripod is necessary for a long exposure and slow shutter speed. It needs to be sturdy and it needs to be steady. Handheld photos are not very good.
  • A wireless or cable remote shutter release is an essential as well because you don’t want the camera to shake. You can also get a self timer mode but you may need to use a bulb mode sometimes to capture surroundings during blue hour.
  • A flashlight which you will use in case your location is a bit bright
  • A stopwatch which is probably available on your phone and you will need it to monitor the duration of shutter release in case your remote doesn’t.
  • Wide angle zoom lens or other suitable lens for the composition which not a must but it will help you compose everything properly as you zoom in and out.
  • Cloth and blower for cleaning the lens because you need to keep your lens clean from dirt, dust or fingerprints.
  • Other things that will make this experience better like a bug repellent for you and towels for sweat if it’s hot.

How To Capture Blue Hour

Here’s how to capture the Blue Hour:

 1. Set up the equipment

The first and most important step is to set up because this will determine your shoot. You need to setup your camera on your tripod and make sure it’s not shaky, so firm ground would be best. Place the tripod on the ground and press to make sure it’s set properly. Put your camera on the tripod and make sure it’s locked in properly. Compose your frame by looking through the viewfinder and make sure that it’s aligned properly as well. Make sure that you are not directly under the light.

Connect your remote to your DSLR or keep a wireless remote ready. Then use the autofocus to lock focus on any objects in your frame. Then put the focusing switch to manual focus to avoid any lost focus.

Try with the RAW format first instead of the JPEG as you can have more flexibility and you will have more details to work with in the post production. Check that your focus is covering the complete frame and take some test shots. Make sure that you come before the blue hour and take your time with setting up. 

2. Take multiple exposures

When you set up your equipment and focus your lens, you need to set the aperture between f/8 and f/16 to get a good depth. Then keep the balance of ISO and shutter speed to control the noise.

ISO should be between 100 and 200 and the rest is shutter speed which can be anywhere from five seconds to over a minute. This will depend on the details and the light you want to capture. You should shoot in the manual mode if you want to control the parameters.

If you are capturing a landscape with trees and grass, you should capture some well lit photos to use in the post production. This will give you an idea of the shutter speed you will need for the sky.

 “Take shots at different intervals to use the best exposure in the post production of the image. If you have any light or architecture with lots of light, adjust the shutter speed to prevent it from being overexposed,” says Toby Flynn, a lifestyle writer at Bestbritishessays and Revieweal

Post Production

Here is a brief description of what you should do.

You should use Adobe photoshop for multiple layer blending of your blue hour photos. If you have a picture in RAW format, then you can change the parameters like the exposure, vibrance, temperature and clarity as well as others when you work on the file. When you do that, the image will open in Photoshop and you should select and open several images based on the exposure of the landscape elements. Select the one with the best exposure and create a new layer to add an image with the best foreground exposure.

Then you can align and arrange different layers and have the major section of the sky to be the top layer then follow that with the foreground layer. Use the erase tool to eliminate the underexposed areas from the layers and reveal the correct exposures of the foreground. 

Adjust the parameters like the contrast and selective color as well as shadows of each layer to be even. Merge the layers to make one layer when you are done and you will have your final image. You can also not merge them and have the flexibility to alter the layer in the future.

Merge these layers to form a single layer upon completion and you have got your final image ready.

Ellie Coverdale is a social media writer at Write my Australia. She is involved in several social media research projects, and teaches content writing at online writing services, such as Australian Reviewer and UK Services Reviews.

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