Sweeten Your Photos by Shooting During the Blue Hour

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Montauk Point, NY. EOS 5D Mark II with EF 17-40 f/4L. 15 seconds at f/11, ISO 800.

Montauk Point, NY. EOS 5D Mark II with EF 17-40 f/4L. 15 seconds at f/11, ISO 800.

There is a period of time each day, just before sunrise and just after sunset, when the sun is below the horizon, when the light is known as “sweet light.” This period of time is known as “The Blue Hour.” This is a period of time each morning and evening when there is neither full daylight, nor full darkness. The light is almost ethereal, with a soft blue glow bathing the scene. The Blue Hour happens in tandem with the Golden Hour, making the beginning and end of the day exceptional for photography, providing two very different types of light within a single time span.

Equipment and settings

The Blue Hour is a prime time for landscape photography. Subjects that have their own lighting, such as city buildings or lighthouses, tend to look especially good, as the yellow glow of their lights cuts through the blue.  A tripod will be necessary to capture these scenes, unless you’re willing to raise your ISO to the point you can hand hold your exposures.  Setting a proper white balance is one of the keys to Blue Hour photography.  When set to AWB (auto white balance), the camera will try to correct for the blue tone the light has, which can result in flattening your image. If you shoot RAW, you can correct for this in pos- processing, to get just the right white balance for your taste. If you’re a JPEG shooter, you may want to try setting a custom white balance, or you can use your camera’s Live View setting to preview what different white balance settings will do to the scene.

Boston's Zakim Bridge. EOS-1D Mark III with EF 24-105 f/4L IS. 30 seconds, f/11, ISO 100.

Boston’s Zakim Bridge. EOS-1D Mark III with EF 24-105 f/4L IS. 30 seconds, f/11, ISO 100.

I prefer the time during the Blue Hour when the sun is close enough to the horizon that there is a soft orange glow along the horizon. This adds an extra quality to the image, especially when you consider that orange is blue’s complementary color.  You may want to bracket your exposures, as this will vary the intensity of any light in the image, be it the orange glow remaining from the sun, or artificial lighting on buildings.  Blending exposures for HDR images may not be necessary, but it will be possible if you use a tripod and decide to try some HDR.

Cannon Beach, Oregon. EOS 5D Mark III with EF 24-70 f/2.8L II. !20 seconds, f/11, ISO 640.

Cannon Beach, Oregon. EOS 5D Mark III with EF 24-70 f/2.8L II. !20 seconds, f/11, ISO 640.

The window of opportunity for Blue Hour shooting is small, and probably much shorter than during the Golden Hour. You’ll want to be at your spot ready to go well in advance of the Blue Hour. To plan your time, you can visit The Blue Hour Site to find out when the Blue Hour starts and ends at your location.  If you don’t have access to the internet, a good rule of thumb is that the Blue Hour starts about 15 minutes after sunset, and ends around an hour after sunset.  For sunrise, it will start roughly an hour before sunrise and end 15 minutes before sunrise.  When I plan to shoot landscapes, be it at sunrise or sunset, I always plan to shoot both the Golden Hour and the Blue Hour.  I tend to get a lot of variety due to the change in light, and it makes the time spent that much more worthwhile.

Pemaquid Point, Maine. EOS 5D Mark II with TS-E 17mm f/4L. 8 seconds, f/11, ISO 400.

Pemaquid Point, Maine. EOS 5D Mark II with TS-E 17mm f/4L. 8 seconds, f/11, ISO 400.

Boston Skyline. EOS 5D Mark II with EF 24-105 f/4L IS. 1 second, f/11, ISO 100.

Boston Skyline. EOS 5D Mark II with EF 24-105 f/4L IS. 1 second, f/11, ISO 100.

Cape Neddick, Maine. EOS-1D Mark III with EF 17-40 f/4L. 0.4 seconds, f/8, ISO 400.

Cape Neddick, Maine. EOS-1D Mark III with EF 17-40 f/4L. 0.4 seconds, f/8, ISO 400.

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Please share your Blue Hour photos and comments below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Rick Berk is a photographer based in Freeport, Maine, shooting a variety of subjects including landscapes, sports, weddings, and portraits. Rick leads photo tours for World Wide Photo Tours and his work can be seen at RickBerk.com and you can follow him on his Facebook page and on Instagram at @rickberkphoto.

  • I love shooting the city in the blue hour. See: https://www.flickr.com/photos/picturesbyjoe/sets/72157632308317243/

    Some great tips here Rick. Personally I use timeanddate.com to determine the blue hour – find your city and select the option to show the three twilight hours. Blue hour lasts around 10-15 minutes either side of the time given for Civil Twilight.

    As you say, depending on the time of year, the duration of the Blue Hour is quite short (and even shorter in bad weather). I always plan out my shots well in advance during the day so I can just set up and shoot without worrying about composition etc. If you want to extend the time as much as possible, it’s always useful to know what direction you are shooting into – you get a bit of extra time if you are shooting into the rising/setting sun. Sometimes, I’ve been lucky to be shooting to the east in an evening and finding just about enough time to move and set up again to get a shot to the west before the sky goes black.

    Some of my favourite shots:

    https://flic.kr/p/eR28Bv

    https://flic.kr/p/j3rHZi

  • Joe Shelby

    Once in post, however, it is sometimes a hard call to figure out how much of the blue to balance out.

    Here’s my first take on a blue-hour image of Kolb Studio at the Grand Canyon – https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/v3Z-2bs_BpQt5h_NLUUvs9MTjNZETYmyPJy0liipFm0?feat=directlink

    Now here’s a version where I balanced the colors a touch more – https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/w_cIYsuUIm5N4ByS1lX_DNMTjNZETYmyPJy0liipFm0?feat=directlink

    any preferences? any advice? should I have aimed for a middle-ground?

  • Michael Owens

    Some amazing images here. Love it!

  • Rick Berk

    I agree… in post, the biggest decision you have with blue hour images is where to set your white balance. Warm things too much and you flatten the image to gray. Keep it too cool and it will give your image a very weird hue. As the artist, it’s your call to decide where the proper balance lies for your image.

  • sher

    ah – glad to know the name of it! i got a great shot of the NY Botanical Garden orchid conservatory with some slight blue toning and now that i think about it, it was right after sunset 🙂

    sher

    blog: http://www.shershegoes.com

    photo: http://shershegoes.com/new-york-botanical-garden-orchid-evenings/

  • Michael Owens

    Nice looking shot, just maybe try a higher ISO next time IMO, as its very grainy. But lovely all the same.

  • Jason

    you mean lower ISO..

  • I prefer the original myself

  • great shots! love the reflections

  • Michael Owens

    Yes I do…. but wow, is that all you have to say? Not a comment on the photo or anything? Just a nit picking exercise Jason?

    If you are going to comment, at least make it constructive to the original poster, rather than correcting a mistake.

  • Rick Berk

    Agree with Darlene. The original has much more mood to it.

  • Rick Berk

    Gorgeous work, Joe!

  • Jason

    It was just a simple correction. I don’t know the original poster and maybe sher doesn’t know which way to go with the ISO and would end up going higher… So wow, thanks for being rude.
    Anyway those are some good pictures Sher. I agree with Michael that some of the pictures are a bit too grainy for my personal taste. And lowering the ISO would help with that.

  • Sher

    thanks for taking a look! i agree, they’re a bit grainy. it’s actually because those are iphone shots and i blew them up pretty large for the blog. i was hoping it wouldn’t be too noticeable but you guys are all clearly professionals ha!

    those were taken during a cocktail event so as much as I wanted to bring my DSLR, i thought it would be out of place. looks like next time i should sneak it in anyway 🙂

  • Jason

    I think like that too, about my dslr being out of place and then I regret not bringing it. Cameras on phones these days are pretty good but not in low light.

  • Bruce Wunderlich

    What white balance setting do you generally start with in Blue Hour?

  • Carlos Cashat

    i love shooting in that hour, specially right before just as the last sunset light s join away, you can get pretty nice colors http://carlosccashat.wix.com/photography

  • Rick Berk

    I shoot RAW and generally leave the camera set to Auto White Balance. Then when I process the image I adjust the white balance to my taste.

  • Helen Knight

    I have heard the term bracket exposure before and would like to know how you do this on a canon 700d

  • Barry E Warren

    Thanks Rick for the info on the Blue Hour. I’ll go out at sunset, and see what I can come up with. Great Read Very interesting.

  • Helen Knight

    I like the blue time in photography but i find it a strange time in spiritual beliefs it’s a time that spirits can enter the our world it’s a doorway a portal which allows them in…it’s an interest time alright colour wise….they seem to stand and are more intense.

  • Erin Barr

    My wife and I went to Budapest a few years back when I just started getting into photography. I took this photo with the Rebel XT I had not knowing anything about ‘blue hour’. When I got home and saw the image, I was stunned how beautiful the sky was and wondered for quite some time how I got the sky such a rich, beautiful color. I thought I got lucky, or needed special equipment to replicate in the future. Didn’t realize it could be as simple as time of day! Great reminder article, I need to get out there and shoot during this time again!

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/lamediaman/10920633273/in/set-72157637793185825/

    Same thing in Poland…

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/lamediaman/10920434596/in/set-72157637793185825

  • Mayur

    I am just starting out as a hobbyist and trying to play with longer exposure. Thanks for this article.

    http://500px.com/photo/70600169/church-by-mayur-kamat

  • Old Ferry PIlings, Prescott, Ontario, Canada.

  • Sylvia

    Never leave your dslr at home. If you can use it, then go for it and if not just leave it in the bag. Better to have it and not need it then need it and not have it.
    I liked the shots and yes, cameras on phones are good but they will never compare to a DSLR. The good thing is that now you have a reason to go back to a beautiful place with ideas that have already started brewing in your creative mind.
    BEST OF LUCK!

  • Sylvia

    Beautiful!

  • Sujata Surija

    I have just started to get into photography again lately, I am glad this topic is discussed here. Have been following another Flickr member that specialised taking ‘blue hour’ pictures and when done right it is very nice indeed.

    This is sort of my first try taking this picture digitally, I thought I share it

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/slilin/11100838145/

  • Bob Bevan Smith

    The two images have different overall brightness. The ‘before’ seems far too blue for my liking. Try darkening the ‘after’ to the same brightness (or lightening the ‘before’ image!) and then compare. That would bring the foreground to a more natural colour, and highlight the redness of the rocks in the distance.

  • Bob Bevan Smith

    I totally agree Jason. Yours was a constructive comment, designed to help. On a camera with control over ISO, the lower the ISO, the less grain. But on a cellphone, you often don’t have that control. So Sher, take a pocketable camera everywhere – it doesn’t have to be a DSLR, there are plenty of excellent smaller cameras around. And you don’t have to be a professional – anyone can learn the intricacies of photography – just go for it.

  • Bob Bevan Smith

    Auto white balance would see the picture as being too blue, ie a high Kelvin value. Try setting the value to bright sun, and see the result; if that goes too far, try experimenting with several different values. You could try shade, or cloudy. If you can set an actual Kelvin value, try going in steps of 1,000 from say 4,000 to 10,000. But it will depend on the time after sunset – you’ll have to be quick! Maybe just spend a few evenings trying different settings at home, to see what results you achieve.

  • Cheryl Garrity

    I love to photograph landscapes in low light; golden hour, blue hour and nighttime. It allows more creativity and gives ethereal look to many scenes. In low light it is easier to simplify the composition since some elements can remain in shadow. By choosing how long to keep the shutter open, I can create different outcomes. Take a look at my nighttime, sunrise and sunset photographs.

    http://www.throughcherylseyesphotography.com

  • Helen Knight

    I think i captured the blue period quite nicely there….as you can see very blue…place called Tai Park in Tauranga NZ

  • Helen Knight

    Try this

  • are you trying to share an image? it might be too big check your file size and try again

  • personally I usually use the Daylight one but shoot in RAW

  • Milton Moreno

    Chicago Blues!!

  • Jorge Alia
  • glennsphotos

    Loving the Blue Shoot 2 nights ago

  • Peter

    In between golden and blue hour I think…

  • hpeterc

    In between golden and blue hour I think…

  • Sebayan

    Great article, thank you for the advice ! Here is my picture, taken in Limoges, France.
    My blog (about b&w street photography and urban landscapes : http://pasdequartiers.wordpress.com/

  • Steve

    Here is my blue hour shot of Cannon Beach, OR.
    stevesalamonephotography.com

  • Ronnie Day

    Nice post. I have recently been trying out shooting architecture in the blue hour. I shoot in RAW and try and adjust the white balance after but everything seems to come out a little bit too blue such as the following photo. Any suggestions ?

    https://farm1.staticflickr.com/753/20691602070_2a088e1187_z.jpg

    Ronnie Day
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/roomanald

    http://www.ronniedayphotography.com

  • Ted Dudziak

    Here is my contribution to the discussion taken in Cabo San Lucas. This one required a bit of post processing since I was trying to capture everything and the exposure was a bit low. The settings were ISO 400, f/13 and 1/250 and was taken on a boat for a sunset cruise. Exsate Golden indicates that it was taken right at the onset of the Blue Hour. Can you see the two birds?

    What I notice about all the images is that there is a contrast of the characteristic blue of the blue hour with some other dominant color which for me indicates the subject of the image.

  • Gustavo Jacob

    Blue hour -Java natural reserve – Indonesia – Tks for the article, the “blue hour site” is great.

  • Gustavo Jacob

    Blue hour – a long exposure photo I took at Java natural reserve, Indonesia – Tks for the article, the “blue hour site” is great.

  • Higbe33

    Boys fishing at pond. Canon 5D3, EF 24-85, f/6.3, ISO 100, 15 seconds.

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