5 Quick Tips for Better Blue Hour Photography

5 Quick Tips for Better Blue Hour Photography

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tips for blue hour photography

Blue hour is a special time for photographers. The sky turns a different shade of blue, it’s velvety and delicious. It’s easy to take photos during blue hour because you don’t have to worry about harsh lighting or shadows.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • When blue hour takes place
  • How to capture blue hour photos   
  • The best subjects to shoot for blue hour photography 

When is blue hour?

Blue hour happens twice a day, just before sunrise and just after sunset. It lasts between 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the weather, and your geographical location. During this time, the sky can turn different shades of blue and reflect orange, yellow, purple and pink.

blue hour photography tips 2 blue hour photography

To catch the blue hour, look up your local sunrise/sunset times and plan on being there early. There is also a great website that tells you exactly when the blue hour is, based on the date and your location.

5 easy tips for blue hour photography

Blue hour photos look amazing! While they might appear complicated to create, they aren’t. Blue hour photography is easy, the hardest part might be getting there before it’s over. These tips will help beginners get started with blue hour photography.

Howard Ignatius

By Howard Ignatius

1. Shoot in Shutter Priority mode

During the blue hour, the sky will be relatively dark because the sun is below the horizon. You’ll need a long/slow shutter speed to let in enough light for properly exposed photos.

Putting your camera in Shutter Priority mode allows you to manually choose your shutter speed. A shutter speed of one to six seconds should get good results. For the photos in this post, I used a six-second shutter speed in Shutter Priority.

Jeff Wallace

By Jeff Wallace

In Shutter Priority mode, your camera will choose the aperture and ISO (if your ISO is set to auto) automatically. This makes things easier when you’re getting started with blue hour photography.

2. Use a remote or self-timed shutter release

Pressing the shutter release button can cause camera shake, which will create blurry photos. To avoid this, use your remote or set the camera’s self-timer to two seconds.

3. Use a tripod

As mentioned above, you’ll be using a slow shutter speed, so a tripod will help you capture a sharp image. If you hand hold your camera during a slow shutter speed, your photos will be blurry because of camera shake.

Image by dPS Managing Editor – Darlene Hildebrandt

Image by dPS Managing Editor - Darlene Hildebrandt

Image by dPS Managing Editor – Darlene Hildebrandt

4. Shoot in RAW

It’s best to capture RAW files when shooting the blue hour. This will give you the highest quality capture, and the best advantages when editing. One nice advantage of shooting in RAW is that you can adjust the exposure compensation in editing. This way, if your photos came out a little too dark or light, you can adjust them up or down accordingly.

But if you have a point and shoot that only captures JPEGs, don’t worry – you can still get great blue hour shots.

Image by dPS Managing Editor – Darlene Hildebrandt

5. Include electric lights

Your blue hour photography will be easier if you choose a location near electric lights. This extra light may also add drama and interest to your photos.

car-trails-750px-03

Image by Darlene Hildebrandt

blue hour photography tips

Image by Dena Haines

While you want electric lights in your photos, don’t shoot too close to them. If you are standing too close to the light source, lens flare could be a problem. You could get unwanted, randomly placed, light spots in your photos.

What to photograph during the blue hour

The easiest subjects to get started with are landscapes that include electric lights.

Mike Boening Photography

By Mike Boening Photography

Miroslav Petrasko

By Miroslav Petrasko

Some blue hour landscapes to consider include:

  • Cityscapes
  • Busy winding roads
  • Beaches
  • Wharfs
  • Bridges
  • A fair or circus
  • Marinas
tips for shooting the blue hour

I love blue hour photos that include water reflections.

Mac H (media601)

By Mac H (media601)

What are your favorite blue hour subjects? Let me know by commenting on this post. And if you have any tips for blue hour photography, please share as well as your images.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Dena Haines is a photographer and content marketer. She blogs about GoPro and action camera photography on Click Like This. Check out: 32 Cool Things to Do with a GoPro.

  • Donna J

    Makes me want to get out and shoot tomorrow morning! I love shooting during the blue hour.
    Thanks for sharing these tips!

  • Emrah Ayvali

    Thanks for tips they are really useful. I can also add one more tip to use live preview and use manuel focus through screen with10x zoom. It will help to improve focusing in darkness. Here is my samples for blue hour shots: http://www.istanbulphotographer.com/night/

  • Donald_W_Meyers

    I shot this in Seattle last summer. Unfortunately, my DSLR batteries (all of them) were dead, so I had to use a smartphone.

  • Swami Pavan

    Make me easy to shooting it’s really helpful.

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  • pvanderheyde

    Thanks for the article, but I don’t really agree with the first tip about shooting in shutter priority. Off course you’ll need a longer shutter speed, but (especially for landscape shots) why would you let the camera decide ISO and aperture? It makes more sense to choose the lowest ISO, a desired f-stop (I opt for the sharpest f-stop, mostly around f8 – 11) and let your camera decide the shutter speed. I would say that shutter priority are for more action/sport scenes, not the blue hour landscape shots .. But all just my opinion off course.
    Cheers

  • Sam Smith

    Great post….These tips will help beginners get started with blue hour photography. http://www.skugphotography.com/

  • I’m so happy it made you feel that way! I would love to see a photo from your morning. 🙂

    Thanks for commenting Donna.

  • Thanks for that tip Emrah.

  • This is a gorgeous shot Donald.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Hi pvanderheyde,

    Yes, Shutter Priority is used a lot for action and sports, but when someone is getting started with DSLR photography it may be easier for them to just set the Shutter speed and let the camera do the rest. With a long/slow shutter speed they will be forcing their camera to let in more light, which is important in this setting. It works well when used in the way I described in the article. As a person learns more and gets more comfortable with their camera, branching out and adjusting more settings (as you suggested) will give them more creative control. Thank you for your comment.

  • Guille Pereira

    Do you recomend to use ND filters for taking this type of photos? I mean, are they necesary in the blue hour photography?

  • Thanks for your question Guille. 🙂

    The light of the blue hour is not harsh, so a ND filter is not necessary. But, as you experiment you may want to use one to create different effects, especially if you are shooting early in the blue hour and using a really long/slow shutter speed.

  • Matthew Ng

    What white balance should I use ? I have a big problem with this
    Auto ? Manual ? Shade ? Cloudy ?

  • I agree and there’s nothing complicated about either shooting in aperture priority and setting a low ISO and letting the camera set the shutter speed, or just shoot in manual and set things so the image looks good in the viewfinder.

  • Thanks for adding these tips to the post Hugh! 🙂

  • Ilija Pejoski

    My shot in blue hour

  • Ilija Pejoski

    My blue hour photo

  • This is really pretty llija! Thanks for sharing.

  • adityaks

    Here’s my blue hour picture. Columbus, OH downtown.

  • Robert Gonzales

    Enjoyed reading your article and hopefully it will help some of your readers to think through the many exposure options. It is all about understanding how you want to compose the photo and using the available tools to achieve your objective. For example, you may want to achieve maximum dof (to capture foreground and distance sharpness) and long exposure (to smooth out moving water) while at the same time minimizing noise. It may take many exposures and lots of patience to achieve what you envision and may not be a quick click and run. Of course, sometimes you just get lucky. That’s what makes photography so much fun!

  • robert c anderson

    really good article, enjoyable read, good advice and well written…and in enjoyed the link to the gopro blog, (and subscribed) i’ve thot about having one to play with

  • Kevin Harding

    Absolutely agree with you pvanderheyde. Shutter priority would possibly be the last mode I’d personally choose. Depending on the light the camera may select f2.8 (or whatever is your widest aperture, f4 etc.) and that could cost you depth of field or focus, depending on where your point of first focus is. It will probably select your widest aperture unless you have programmed it to do otherwise.
    Personally I shoot in Manual (also remember to switch off Auto-focus once – or before if you prefer not to use AF at all – you have focused your lens) as you can then a) find perfect focus for the depth of field you require (use Live-view to magnify and confirm your focus) b) shoot at base ISO, usually 100. You can then get exposure almost perfect by using one of the many apps available for mobile phones (if you don’t fancy doing the maths yourself) and just enter your camera settings to let the app calculate for you the amount of seconds to leave the shutter open (usually add 10% because the light is still fading), depending on your desired effect of course. Then set it and away you go.
    However if not Manual then Aperture Priority with ISO fixed at 100 and let the camera decide how long to keep the shutter open (and use the compensation dial to either lesson or extend the time as required). This is probably much easier for beginners.
    I don’t think it is a good idea, even for beginners, to begin shooting Blue Hour in a mode that is patently unsuited and leads to poor habits. Everything else in the article was spot on so I’m extremely surprised at the choice of mode suggested.

  • Kevin Harding

    Matthew – I’d advise shooting in RAW and leaving the WB on auto. Any inaccuracy can easily be adjusted in post processing.

  • Pete L.

    I always felt like shutter/aperture priority modes were MORE complicated than just shooting in manual, especially in “abnormal” light situations like blue hour. You just end up making exposure compensations anyway and instead of learning the exposure triangle, you just learn whether your camera’s meter over or underexposes in low light.

    I would also add that histograms are your most valuable tool in low light situations like this. The LCD view is not going to tell the whole story. Learn how to read a histogram and utilize it and you will be much happier when you get back to your computer to find out you haven’t clipped data.

    Numbers 2 and 3 are necessities though.

  • Crazymethods

    Hey pvanderheyde,
    I hope to agree with you one day when more experienced, but I would say the article is more geared towards someone like me who is just learning. There is a lot to learn and learning one aspect at a time is what will ultimately lead me into setting up the camera my own way. Happy shooting!

  • Hi Kevin,

    Thank you for sharing these tips. All the comments about how to best capture the blue hour are really helpful!

    I suggested using Shutter Priority because that is what I used. With a 6 second shutter speed my ISO was low (between 100 to 250) and the water had that smooth look I was after. I enjoyed seeing the varied results based on where my focus point was, and I really loved the way my wide aperture low ISO shots came out.

    Using Aperture Priority with a mid-range aperture and setting a low ISO would give more consistent results, and I’m glad you and others have mentioned it here in the comments. 🙂

  • dude II

    Here is a link which contains two blue hour images taken in 2006 using a 6MP DSLR, no shake reduction, no tripod, no live view, no laptop (i.e. no post production until I got home). (Cathedral and Art Museum in Christchurch NZ) Now I admit that I have been shooting for over 50 years so I adamantly disagree that shutter priority is the best way to do this. Both shots were aperture priority as ISO 200. Good camera technique beats off the cuff “advise” every time.

    Most beginners use auto mode, you shoot based off of aperture because you want to control DOF. Shooting in low light means you really don’t care too much about shutter speed, I suggest you are going about it backwards. Learn proper technique and practice practice practice.

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  • Mr_Electability

    Forcing a long shutter speed in these circumstances gains an effect with running or moving water (as in the lake and the fountain) as well as with clouds, or the headlamp effect (as with the cityscape) that you simply cannot get with a shutter speed fast enough to use handheld. That is very often what people want from a blue hour photo, so the author is right to advise shutter priority in these circumstances.

  • Thanks Robert

    We really like the GoPro, it’s a lot of fun! So glad you subscribed to ClickLikeThis, I hope you’ll join in over there too 🙂

  • Alejo Planchart

    Since I travel without a tripod, I select the lowest speed I can hold without shaking (in this case 1/20, the lowest f stop that will give a good depth of field (f5.6) for the lens (90 mm) and the ISO that will give me a cleaner image (low noise) ISO 400. This was my result.

  • Daryl Gilbert

    I love photographing during the Blue Hour! I always shoot in Manual Mode though. Once you conquer your camera control fears, you’ll never use anything else.

  • Dinah Beaton

    Thanks Dena. Love these articles and the following comments, I really do. I learn so much from them.

  • glennsphotos

    Thanks as I enjoyed this article. I like to shoot in manual mode when shooting cityscapes so I can set a small f stop to get starbursts in the lights. Nice photos along with recommendations.

  • Kevin Harding

    Hi Dena,
    There was no intended criticism of your lovely shots – or the rest of the article that I believe will be very helpful to beginners. However using Shutter Speed as your mode means you have delegated responsibility for aperture to your camera – so although you liked how they came out you weren’t actually in control of the depth of field.
    For beginners I do think Aperture priority (at f8 or f11) on a tripod is going to get them the most keepers.
    Keep the articles coming !

  • Easy does it

    too bad these discussions have to end up as p***ing matches. If you are all that great, what are you doing reading posts from a school?

  • George Karen

    my question would be: what would you suggest for a white balance?? That has always been my issue while trying to photograph the blue hour, thanks

  • Matthew Ng

    My camera cannot shoot RAW (Casio EX100)
    Even if I do – I will still need to adjust in PP which comes back to my same problem – how to adjust ?
    Suddenly I appreciate blue hour a lot- its so beautiful especially with night city lights

  • wri7913

    Doesn’t matter what white balance but I tend to leave it on daylight balance so you can get a more accurate preview on the LCD of your camera.

  • wri7913

    ND will make your exposure longer. Good if you want long trails of light or want to remove people from the images.

  • Daphne

    There was no intended criticism of your lovely shots – or the rest of the article that I believe will be very helpful to beginners. However using Shutter Speed as your mode means you have delegated responsibility for aperture to your camera – so although you fashion photographer in Delhi liked how they came out you weren’t actually in control of the depth of field.

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  • tracy

    Here is a link which contains two blue hour images taken in 2006 using a 6MP DSLR, no shake reduction, no tripod, no live view, no laptop (i.e. no post production until I got home). (Cathedral and Art Museum in Christchurch NZ) Now double klick designsadmit that I have been shooting for over 50 years so I adamantly disagree that shutter priority is the best way to do this. Both shots were aperture priority as ISO 200. Good camera technique beats off the cuff “advise” every time.

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