How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour

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Blue hour, especially the one in the evening (yes it happens before sunrise too!), is probably the most popular time of day to take cityscape photography with dazzling city lights illuminated. But exactly when is the prime time of blue hour that could result in you getting the best possible shots?

Singapore - How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour

Singapore skyline at blue hour.

Hong Kong - How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour

Hong Kong skyline at blue hour.

Blue Hour Photography Requires a Tripod

One note before we get started. Although you could shoot handheld at blue hour by bumping the ISO up, it’s always advisable to use a tripod in order to shoot clean (noise-free) photos with low ISO (e.g. 100). It also comes with an added bonus of letting you do long exposure photography with smoothed-out water, etc.

For your information, sample photos shown in this post are all shot using my trusty Manfrotto MT190CXPRO3 carbon-fibre tripod.

Tripod - How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour

Setting a tripod up and getting ready for blue hour.

Finding out Your Local Sunset and Dusk Time

Let’s get down to business. In terms of timeline, SUNSET comes first, followed by DUSK 20+ minutes later. The time between sunset and dusk is called TWILIGHT, and NIGHT falls once dusk is over.

To find out your local sunset and dusk time, simply go to timeanddate.com and search for your city (e.g. sunset and dusk time in Singapore on January 26th, 2018 will be 19:18 and 19:40 respectively). Or alternatively, search Google using “dusk date city” format (e.g. dusk January 24th, 2018 Singapore). Then, Google returns a dusk time even before the first result. Checking a dusk time has become a second nature to me whenever I’m shooting at blue hour, locally as well as traveling abroad on holidays.

Note: Apps like PhotoPills are also really helpful for planning shooting times and figuring out the sunrise, sunset and dusk times daily in any location worldwide.

Timeline - How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour

Sunset to dusk in timeline. Towards the end of dusk is the best time to shoot blue hour photos with beautiful bluish hue in the sky.

Aim for Shooting the Last 10 Minutes of Dusk

In this 20 or so minutes between sunset and dusk, the first 10 minutes are still not quite “ripe”, as city buildings are not yet fully lit up, and the sky hasn’t yet taken on the beautiful bluish hue that appears towards the end of dusk. Use this time to decide on your composition, do some test shots, etc.

Singapore - How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour

This Singapore skyline was shot 15 minutes before the end of dusk (six minutes after sunset) at f/13, 1.6 seconds, ISO 100. The stage isn’t quite set yet, as the sky is still bright and not many of the city lights are illuminated.

When there are about 10 minutes left before dusk, more city buildings will be lit, and bluish hue starts to appear in the sky, getting deeper and deeper with every single passing minute. It’s these last 10 minutes of dusk that are undoubtedly the prime time to shoot blue hour photography.

In addition, the limited available light at blue hour allows for your shutter speed to naturally get longer, especially with the use of a small aperture. Shoot in Aperture Priority mode and use a bigger f-stop number such as f/13, which helps create smoothed-out water and rushing clouds effects (provided that you’re shooting with a tripod).

ND filter - How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour

A neutral density (ND) filter is an item that will enrich your blue hour photography experience and images.

Add an ND Filter

To enhance such effects, try shooting with a neutral density (ND) filter attached. ND filters help reduce the light that is coming through the lens, allowing you to use much slower shutter speeds.

For example, with a 3-stop ND filter attached, a base shutter speed of 2-seconds is extended to 15 seconds. For a greater effect, use 6-stop ND filter to extend a base shutter speed of 2-seconds to 128 seconds (just over two minutes), which gives your photo a surreal and dreamy feel that is typically seen in long exposure photography, like Marina Bay (Singapore) photo below.

Singapore - How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour

This Marina Bay photo was shot three minutes before the end of dusk (f/13, 135 seconds, ISO 100). The blue hour sky looks just right – not too light, not too dark, not overly vibrant. Also, an exposure of 135 seconds (with a 6-stop ND filter attached) helped create a silky smooth water effect.

Blue Hour Suddenly Ends after Dusk

Blue hour photography is sometimes mixed up with night photography, which starts once dusk is over. You might be surprised to find out that night falls almost suddenly after dusk. It doesn’t even take 10 minutes for the blue hour sky at dusk to turn into pitch-black night.

Personally, I never shoot after dusk. Photos shot after dusk tend to come out very dark and colors look muddy as there is little bluish hue left in the sky. Your photos will look considerably different if you miss this prime time of blue hour even by a mere few minutes.

Hong Kong - How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour

This Hong Kong skyline was shot 8 minutes after the end of dusk. The bluish hue in the sky quickly disappeared, and the scene turned into the dark night rather abruptly.

Conclusion

In fact, what we call blue “hour” seems to last only approximately 10 minutes towards the end of dusk (depending on where you are located relative to the equator).

Blue hour photography is quite a time-sensitive genre, as this prime time of blue hour sky ends in the blink of an eye. So, stay focused, otherwise, you could suddenly miss it passing you by under the fast-changing dusk sky. I really wish blue hour could literally last for an hour!

Editor’s note: it does in some parts of the world, at certain times of the year. If you want more blue hour time – travel farther away from the equator! Where I live in Canada blue hour is almost a full hour in the summer, versus 20 minutes where the author lives in Singapore.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Joey J is a Singapore based enthusiast photographer primarily shooting cityscapes at twilight and dusk (a.k.a. blue hour). Get his free eBook Taking Your First Long Exposure Photos at Blue Hour. Or visit his website LASTLIGHTS.NET where he posts his best photos (from Singapore, Brunei, Southeast Asia, and beyond) and shares his experience photographing cityscape photos with long exposure at blue hour.

  • Another great article Joey 🙂

  • Thank you Daniel! Well, I totally forgot about this post going live today. 😉 Talk to you soon!

  • instituto

    Excellent Blog Article..

  • Thank you. 🙂

  • Grate article about blue hour photography. Best learning things for photographer.

  • Lisa

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  • Thank you, hope this post is helpful!

  • Laura

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  • Ray Arsenault

    There are many great skylines to photograph with water as foreground around the world. My top 3 are Singapore, Toronto and Hong Kong. With the development of the Marina Bay Sands and the Gardens by the Bay, Singapore has become my favourite!

  • Terry Price

    Nice article, very helpful.

  • russ hook

    Ha Ha! I was reading intently until I came to the word ‘equator’. There is NO EQUATOR, only bc the Earth is FLAT just like it looks to the naked eye, not FISH-EYE lenses nASSa uses to fool the majority dim-witted sheeple. An experienced and well-travelled photographer should know this from taking many sea LEVEL shots in different countries.

  • russ hook

    Yup, and Singaporians favorite is PUPPY chow mein!

  • Thanks a lot!

  • Great to hear as a resident in SG! I also love shooting “waterfront cityscapes” at blue hour. MBS and Gardens by the Bay are the great additions to Singapore skyline. I also love HK and have visited there about 7 times (just under 4 hours flight from SG). It’s an amazing place for cityscape shooters. 🙂

  • Mary

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  • Ray Arsenault

    Yes, I agree about Hong Kong. I lived there for 3 years and 1 year in Singapore. In my opinion, Hong Kong has the best skyline in the world, however ‘blue sky’ days are rare because of pollution. This makes it challenging for razor sharp photos especially when taking photos from across Victoria Harbour. On the rare ‘blue-sky’ days, nothing in the world can beat it! Singapore and Toronto do not have this problem.

  • It’s true that clear days are hard to come by in Hong Kong. I didn’t get to see any blue sky at all during some of my 3 or 4 nights trips. I’d love to stay there for 3 years, too! Maybe even for 3 months. One place I haven’t tried is Braemar Hill. I’ve seen very nice photos shot from there.

  • Matjaž

    Hi Joey! Nice article, but my opinion is, that blue hour is BLUE HOUR and it lasts more than 20 minutes. Yes, you may be totaly right if you are making photo in Singapur – near equator, but higher on the north the hour means HOUR, and on the poles it means few months :).

  • Yes, that’s what I’ve learned recently! In Singapore, blue hour (time between sunset and dusk) is always 21-23 minutes throughout the year. For those places I’ve visited often (Southeast Asia, East Asia, Australia), it’s 25-30 minutes. But it’s true that there are places like Amsterdam, London, Edmonton where blue hour lasts 50-60 minutes in summer! It was quite surprising to find this fact!

  • Matjaž

    Yes, the world is big and the size of an hour is not hour everywhere – considering the “golden hour”. Everything, what is connected with geographycal latitude is somehow measured somewhere in the middle, on the 45 dgr., and there the hour is in fact an hour. Anyway – enjoy your life in Singapur and I wish you good light.

  • Thank you! Yes, wishing all photographers good light!

  • PJB_NUFC

    Great advice in this article, thanks Joey. Some of my best photos have been taken at blue hour and they are incredibly satisfying when you get them right. Hopefully after reading this I can get more of them right.

    By the way, Singapore is one of my favourite places in the world to visit – great food, great people and very photogenic.

  • Thank you! Yes, it’s very satisfying when getting everything right, like timing, good sky and light! Singapore skyline is quite picturesque although it seldom gets mentioned in the great skylines of the world.

  • Very informative and helpful article for a photography.Outstanding blue hour photography.

  • Thank you for your comment, Ashim!

  • You are most welcome.

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