The blue hour is one of the most stunning times of the day for photography. During this period of time, the lighting is soft and you get wonderful tones of light to dark blue in the photo.
One of the great things about blue hour photography is that it’s relatively easy to capture great photos. If you know what you are doing! But if you have some questions or just want some tips, then this quick blue hour photography tutorial will point you in the right direction.
When should you be photographing the blue hour?
The blue hour occurs before sunrise and after sunset. Confusingly it doesn’t actually last an hour exactly. Sometimes it can be longer. But also depending on the time of year and conditions it may be as short as 10 – 15 minutes and longer than 30 minutes.
So the first step in photographing the blue hour is knowing when it will be happening.
t’s an app that has some really useful information laid out really simply. In the example below, you can see that the blue hour in Rome on the 19th of June 2020 is from 21:09 – 21:22. Notice how the sunset is actually 20 minutes before the blue hour starts? Don’t make the mistake of packing up early, make sure you check the times.
Pack a tripod
There is no way around this I’m afraid. If you want to take the best blue hour photos possible, you are going to have to use a tripod.
No one can hold a camera steady enough to capture sharp photos at slow exposures. Even 1 second will be too long and your photo will be blurred. Without a tripod, your only option is to raise the ISO.
But this means that you are going to get a lot of noise in your image. This noise will make your image look soft which is exactly what you need to avoid when photographing the blue hour. This is because you will need those crisp and sharp edges to counteract the soft motion blur that you might get. So, simply put, a tripod is a must for blue hour photography
Settings for blue hour photography
Since you have a tripod it would be tempting to just select the smallest shutter speed possible giving you the greatest depth of field. Afterall your camera is secure on a tripod so it doesn’t matter if your shutter speed is 3o seconds. But just because you can go super slow on your shutter speed doesn’t mean you should.
Try to think about the type of photo that you want to capture and select your settings accordingly. For example, setting your aperture to f/8 will still give you a pretty good depth of field. But it might also mean that because of the faster shutter speed you can capture some of the movement of people and cars.
What you choose will ultimately come down to your creativity. But typically you’ll be looking at f/8 – f/16 with your ISO as low as possible.
Your shutter speed won’t matter because you are using a tripod. But avoid touching the shutter release button when taking a picture as this can shake the camera. Instead, use a remote release or select timer mode on your camera.
Don’t forget to lock up the mirror
This is a common mistake that amateur photographers often make when taking long-exposure shots.
Inside DSLRs, there is a mirror that reflects what you see into the viewfinder. Incidentally, if you ever wondered, this is what is missing from a mirrorless camera. When you click to take a photo, this mirror flips up to expose your sensor to the light, creating the digital image. This mechanical process is very fast, but at slow shutter speeds, it can cause vibrations which make your image look soft.
The way to solve this issue is to “lock-up” your mirror in your camera’s menu. This will permanently flip your mirror up and keep it there until you change the setting in your menu. Another option is to select the “live view” mode which has the same effect.
Whatever you do, don’t press the shutter button on the camera as this could also cause camera shake.
Compose your image with care
During the blue hour, anywhere with artificial lighting comes to life. For example, cityscapes or street scenes look great during this time. The artificial and natural light in the sky combine for some pretty amazing results.
So it’s tempting to just set-up your tripod and take any sort of shot. But if you really want to capture great blue hour photos, you need to take a bit of time to really think about your composition. Look for compositional techniques such as the rule of thirds or leading lines to guide the viewer through and around the image.
Also, remember that you don’t always have to take landscape photographs. Turn your camera and take some in vertical format as. Just make sure you pay attention to light sources and don’t be afraid to take some test shots to make sure your settings are correct.
Don’t be lazy about editing
Once you have captured your photos, the final step is post-processing in software like Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop.
How much you edit will come down to the photo and personal preference. But every photo will benefit from some level of post-production editing.
Things like straightening your shot or correcting the white balance should be a must. Brightness, contrast, saturation and even some cropping are also likely to improve the final photo. Don’t be lazy about it. You’ve done the hard work in capturing the image, so make sure you finish it off.
Photographing the blue hour is a great way to capture beautiful colourful images that will look great anywhere. Whether it’s hanging on a wall or in a magazine, blue hour shots often have the “wow” factor. If you have struggled in the past or are planning your first blue hour shoot, use these quick blue hour photography tutorial tips to ensure you end up with great images.
YouTube – Why not take this opportunity to check out our brand new YouTube channel for tips, advice and some inspiration.
Instagram – Check out our photos on Instagram
Facebook – Join our Facebook group and share your photos and chat with other beginner photographers.
Even though we may not be able to travel right now, we are already planning our trips for 2020 and 2021. Our UK workshops in the Yorkshire, Cornwall, Glencoe, Dorset, Lake District, Cotswolds or London will be starting again soon.
Kav Dadfar is a writer and travel photographer who has written over 400 articles on photography. He is also a judge on the Wanderlust Travel Photography of the Year competition and a speaker at camera clubs and events. He has years of experience shooting assignments with his images having been used by some of the biggest brands in the world.
This quick guide on photographing the blue hour is subject to copyright. Words and photos by Kav Dadfar (That Wild Idea). Copying or reposting of photos or article elsewhere is strictly forbidden. Please contact us if you would like to use this feature on your website.