Blue Hour Photography – A Guide To Magical Photos

Blue hour photography tips and tricks

Blue Hour Photography

You’ve probably already heard of golden hour photography. The warm and gentle tones which make an image radiate at sunset and sunrise. But what do you know about blue hour photography?

Learning about blue hour photography can open up your world to new photography possibilities. Just because the sun has set doesn’t mean you have to pack up your camera and leave. There are more photography opportunities waiting for you after sunset than you might think. We’re here to give you all the tips to capture the most beautiful blue hour shots.

What Is Blue Hour?

If you have ever enjoyed a long hot summer night. You might notice how the sky changes color between sunset and nighttime. It takes on a deep, dark blue, and taints the world around it. In the city, the street lights come on and sparkle against the dark blue tones of the sky.

The same also happens between nighttime & sunrise. That magical twilight hour just before the world comes alive, and the sky seems to glow a soft blue light.

The blue hour occurs in between these times. Although technically, it is usually around 20-40 minutes rather than an hour, which gives you a relatively short window to get your blue hour images.

Taking photos during the blue hour is a great way to add a point of difference to your portfolio. Many landscape photographers shoot during the golden hour or focus on shooting the stars. But the blue hour photography niche is still relatively new to most photographers.

Photos taken at blue hour are generally easily recognizable as they will have an overall blue hue to the image.

Figuring out exactly when and how long the ‘blue hour’ lasts can be tricky. But we are here to help. In this article, we discuss all the tips and tricks to take magnificent blue hour photos.

Blue hour photography in Paris.
Place Vendome during the blue hour in Paris – © Ainsley DS Photography.

Tips For Getting The Best Blue Hour Shots

Unlike golden hour which often has long lingering warm light, the light in blue hour changes very quickly. Therefore photographers need to be prepared with their settings and equipment in advance.

Settings For Blue Hour Images

As always, the settings you choose to use for your blue hour photos will depend a lot on exactly what you are shooting. And of course, the natural lighting that is available to you.

For example, if you shoot a landscape with foreground and background detail, you will want the entire picture sharp, which means you will need to use an aperture number of about f/8 or higher. This will allow you to get a longer depth of field and a sharper overall image.

If you want to show motion blur or the light is low, you will need a slower shutter speed. Therefore will need to adjust your ISO & aperture accordingly. If you are shooting in harsh lighting, or you want to freeze moving objects in your photo. You may be able to use a faster shutter speed.

Try to keep your ISO as low as possible to reduce noise, and play around with shutter speeds until you have the desired effect.

Working in low-light conditions can be tricky. And there is no golden rule to success. Therefore, it’s essential to have a good knowledge of manual settings to obtain the correct exposure in your blue hour image.

You can find more information on how to use your manual settings here.

blue hour photo example.
Learning how to use your manual settings is vital in achieving the blue hour photos you want – © Ainsley DS Photography.

Give Yourself Time

As there is only a short window for blue hour photography, you will want to arrive early to give yourself plenty of time to get set up. You should be aiming to get there before sunset when there is enough light to scout a location safely. This way, you can carefully plan your composition, camera settings & make sure everything is in working order before you start shooting.

Don’t give up if blue hour takes a little longer to arrive than you might have planned. Lighting conditions & specific locations can affect the timing of blue hour. So make sure you stick it out & wait for the sky to turn deep blue.

Don’t pack up and soon as the sun goes down. It will be worth the wait.

Lights on the Eiffel tower contrast against a dark blue sky.
Sometimes, views are just better in the blue hour – © Ainsley DS Photography.

Plan Ahead For Your Blue Hour Photos

Make sure you look up the sunset times before you head out on your shoot. Apps & websites like Photoephermeris let you figure out exact sunset timings and sun directions at any location. Knowing the blue hour times gives you a much better idea of when you should arrive.

Timing is important, but so is the location.

Think about where you want to do your blue hour shoot. And what kind of mood you are looking for. Artificial lights can pop against a dark sky if you want to convey a sense of busy city life.

Whereas a blue hour photography shoot in nature will convey a magical feel. This would be especially great on a full moon for Halloween.

Although it’s sometimes hard to predict, the weather will also play a vital role in your blue hour shoot. Clouds during blue hour can add a nice diffused light but are not ideal if you are trying to photograph the milky way.

If you are looking to photograph a little bit of astronomical twilight or nautical twilight, you will need a clear day with a bit of moon.

night sky with stars reflecting on water.
Plan ahead for your photoshoot to get the best results.

Look For Light & Color

The great thing about blue hour photography is that you can shoot the images in almost any location. City lights provide epic artificial light. Whereas natural light adds depth and mood to a landscape photo.

The light source you chose to include in your photo will make a big difference to the overall mood of your image.

Blue hour photography is also unique is it allows you to capture the different shades of darkening light of the sky. As well as a semi-lit foreground.

You should also pay special attention to the sky at this time because of the complementary colors it often produces. With the right exposure and good sunset, you will get peaks of orange and yellow, which contrast nicely against the blue sky.

Contrasting colours in sunset photos create interest.
Contrasting colors in your post-sunset photos can make an image pop – © Ainsley DS Photography.

Get Creative With Blue Hour Photography

Blue hour photography can allow you to get creative with your subject, whether it’s changing up the angles, composition, or shutter speed. The blue hour means all rules are off the table.

Reflection of lights on water always works well with light blue tones in an image. For more ideas on reflection photography, take a look at one of our latest articles here.

Creative composition ideas for night time images with reflections.
Reflections on water create interesting blue hour photos.

Shoot Your Photos In RAW

Shooting in RAW format allows much more flexibility with your images in post-production. When you take photos in a RAW format, more information is obtained in the image than in Jpeg. This means that the information in dark shadows and highlight details will be easier to work with when editing the image.

Slow shutter speed before night time. Photo with Purple sky, street light.
Photographers should shoot in RAW if they wish to edit their images – © Ainsley DS Photography.

Tips For Editing Your Blue Hour Photos

Although most of the magic in your blue hour photos is captured during the shoot, there are a few extra tips to help your final image pop.

Try Our Presets

Whether you are going for a majestic landscape look, or you want your blue hour photo to look a little spooky. We have a range of presets that will make post-processing a breeze. Our lightroom presets allow you to easily make drastic changes to your blue hour photo’s color, tone, and texture, with just the click of a button.

Blue sky sunrise in Turkey edited with landscape presets for Lightroom.
Cappadocia- Edited with the PhotographyCourse.net Majestic Landscape Preset – © Ainsley DS Photography.

Keep An Eye On Your Histogram

It’s easy to get carried away in lightening and darkening your images unless you are going for a specific look with your blue hour photos. For example, dark and moody, or bright and blue. Knowing what your histogram is saying is a good way to make sure you are not over-exposing or under-exposing the image in post-production.

A general rule is to think about what you could see with the naked eye when you took the photo. And try to match your exposure to that.

Slow shutter speed city evening photo with moving cars and street lights.
Think about the shadows and highlights when editing your images.

Don’t Be Afraid To Play

Sometimes the best edits are simply achieved by playing around with your photos until you achieve a satisfactory result.

With blue hour images, you may wish to adjust the white balance to make the image warmer or cooler feeling.

Or you may want to consider playing with the shadows and highlights to create a strong contrast. Or even bring out as much shadow detail as you can. There is no limit on creativity with blue hour photography.

Post sunset image on beach with purple hues.
Blue hour photography allows you to get creative – © Ainsley DS Photography.

Best Gear For Taking Blue Hour Pictures

If you’re planning to capture photos during the blue hour, there are a couple of things you will need. If you are a landscape photographer, you might already have most of this equipment ready to go.

Camera

The most obvious piece of equipment you will need for blue hour photos is a decent camera. For blue hour or night photography, you will most likely want to have a full-frame camera. This means you have a larger sensor area for light compared to crop sensor cameras. Full frame or mirrorless cameras generally produce better quality images in low light. Read our in-depth article on crop vs. full frame sensor cameras.

You will also want to look at a camera with good ISO capabilities. As you will be shooting in low light, you may need to bump the ISO up high. A camera with good and high ISO capabilities will mean that the noise in the image is reduced.

evening image with high ISO & grain.
An image with a high ISO will produce more noise and make the image grainy – © Ainsley DS Photography.

Tripod

A tripod is an essential piece of equipment for blue hour photography. As you will be shooting in low light, you will likely be working with a slow shutter speed. And therefore, you will need to have a steady tripod to reduce camera shake.

You may also want to get a little creative with your blue hour image and use a long exposure to create a photo with motion blur. For this, a tripod will certainly be needed.

We recommend using a tripod that is easy to carry which can be weighed down at the bottom. This means that you’re not likely to lose your camera or tripod to any gusts of wind.

evening lights sparkle in the city as dusk.
Using a tripod is essential to reduce blur or camera shake – © Ainsley DS Photography.

Remote Shutter Release

For the same reason- a remote shutter release allows you to use a slow shutter speed while significantly reducing the chance of camera shake. This can often occur when pressing the shutter release button and can create annoyingly blurry photos.

A remote shutter release allows you to operate the shutter from a distance. This means there is less risk of you bumping or shaking the camera when making long exposures. If you are planning to shoot at slower shutter speeds, reducing blur should be the top priority.

image of lights on reflection of water during dusk in the city.
Use a remote shutter release to reduce the risk of shaking your camera & ruining a sharp image.

Lenses

For blue hour landscapes, a fast and wide lens will likely be your best bet.

As you will be working in conditions with little light, a lens with a wide aperture like f/1.8 or f/2 would be ideal. This allows more light to hit the sensor and means you can use a lower ISO & fast shutter speed.

If you are shooting in the blue hour, the chances are you will be photographing some type of landscape. Therefore you may wish to use a wide lens so that you can fully capture the twilight surroundings.

However, a telephoto lens could also be interesting if you are focusing on blue hour details.

Sacre Cour- Montmartre lit up against a dark blue sky.
A wide lens is useful for many landscapes and architecture blue hour shoots – © Ainsley DS Photography.

Filters

Filters like neutral density filters or polarising filters give you more freedom to play around with longer exposures. They are also great in helping to bring out colors in the sky that the naked eye might only see.

Long exposure image of bridge after dark.
Using filters can help you when creating long exposures.

Flashlight or Headlamp

Once the sun goes down and the blue hour is over, it can get dark quickly. If you are in a location with no street lamps, you will need an artificial light source to pack up and get home safely. A headlamp is the best bet as it allows your hands to remain free. We do not want you to get stuck in the dark!

Slow motion, blur image of person in field after sunset.
Don’t get lost once the sun goes down.

Conclusion

Whether you are out to capture the setting sun or you’re an early bird waiting until the sky turns blue. There are so many reasons why landscape photographers should stick around past the golden hour.

Although you may only have a short window for blue hour photography, the creative possibilities are almost endless.

We hope this article helps you take beautiful images & encourages you to wait around a little longer in the magic hours.

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