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5 Steps for Photographing the Blue Hour

Blue hour photography is an attractive subject to shoot. It’s great to be outdoors after dark, there are usually less people around, and it presents the opportunity to capture a familiar daytime scene in a new and different light.

Taking photos during the blue hour is considered to be the optimum time to document a cityscape as the artificial lights awaken and the daylight disappears.

Blue hour is one of the most popular times for photographers to take pictures. The blue hour refers to “the period of twilight in the morning or evening, during the civil and nautical stages, when the sun is at a significant depth below the horizon and residual, indirect sunlight takes on a predominantly blue shade.”

For the purpose of this article, I will focus on outlining the steps required for shooting during the blue hour:

1. Consider the time of day

Image: Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford © Jeremy Flint

Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford © Jeremy Flint

The time of day is an important factor when photographing the blue hour.

The blue hour is not just limited to the period after sunset. Similar light can be achieved in the morning (before sunrise) and evening (after sunset).

During the blue hour in cities, buildings are lit, and streetlights come on, making it an ideal time for urban and city photography with a perfect blend of natural and artificial light. The sky takes on a deep blue hue with cold tones and warmer colors from the illuminated buildings. A gradient of colors from blue to orange tinges the sky in place of the sunrise and sunset.

In the evening, the blue hour coincides with the end of the civil twilight, just after the golden hour. In the morning, it coincides with the initial part of the civil twilight, occurring just before the golden hour.

Try taking pictures after this time to see how your images differ. You will generally find that when capturing cities after the blue hour, the natural light will have faded away and your images will appear darker in the sky. This can still be a good time to take interesting pictures.

2. Consider your subject and viewpoint

When preparing to take pictures during the blue hour it is important to take on board a few considerations. What are you going to photograph and how will you frame your image?

Image: © Jeremy Flint

© Jeremy Flint

My first suggestion is to decide on your subject and consider what you want to include in your image. You may want to frame your subject with an attractive background or foreground to make the image look more visually pleasing.

I chose to photograph this night scene of Tokyo with the Rainbow Bridge as my main subject with the neon-lit cityscape and towering skyscrapers beyond.

3. Consider the exposure, aperture and shutter speed

You will need to decide on the settings you want to use. If there is movement in the image, you may want to prioritize shooting in shutter speed priority. If not, then aperture mode can be used to achieve greater depth of field.

Image: University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin viewpoint © Jeremy Flint

University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin viewpoint © Jeremy Flint

The correct exposure will automatically be set to let in the right amount of light when you capture your images. Both methods allow the use of longer exposures.

As my subjects were static, I opted for aperture priority to achieve more depth.

4. Try different shutter speeds

As the light fades, you may find that you want to increase your shutter speed to maintain a well-exposed shot. I would start at around a second and increase the exposure accordingly when darkness falls.

Image: © Jeremy Flint

© Jeremy Flint

You can also use shutter speeds to creative effect. For example, capturing moving traffic trails during the blue hour can give pleasing results. Try anything over five seconds of exposure time to allow for some movement.

Long exposures are another great way to create amazing photographs. For example, they can be used to exaggerate cloud movement or traffic trails even further. Try anything over 30 seconds.

5. Use a tripod or something for support

Using a tripod or a stable surface such as a table or wall is of paramount importance when photographing the blue hour. They will help you to achieve sharper pictures by minimizing unwanted camera shake.

Image: Skytree, Tokyo © Jeremy Flint

Skytree, Tokyo © Jeremy Flint

I achieved the photo attached by setting my camera up on a sturdy tripod to prevent any potential movement.

Conclusion

Blue hour is a magical time to take photographs in towns and cities. Follow the above steps and see if you can improve your photos captured during the blue hour.

Share your pictures with us below and feel free to add your tips to capturing the blue hour.

 

5 steps for photographing blue hour

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Jeremy Flint
Jeremy Flint

is a UK based award winning travel and landscape photographer, known for documenting images of beautiful destinations, cultures and communities from around the world. He recently won the Association of Photographers Discovery Award 2017 and the Grand Prize in the 2016 National Geographic Traveller and F11 Your Vision competitions. His pictures are represented by 4Corners images and have been featured in National Geographic Traveller, Outdoor Photography, Digital SLR Photography and national newspapers.