The true Blue Hour is the most fleeting and rewarding moment of azure light to try and capture in photography. It’s worth the effort to attempt to record it! A melancholy but ephemeral moment where the light is cold and steely and the shadows are soft and gloomy. It’s hard to catch the exact time but every photographer should see it. What is it and when exactly does it occur?
The Blue Hour in photography occurs once before sunrise and precedes the Golden Hour, once after sunset and follows the Golden hour. It occurs when the sun is between -4 degrees & -6 degrees below the horizon. The light is cold and steely with rich hues of blue. It usually lasts minutes not an hour.
The blue hour provides a unique lighting opportunity but you have to work quickly. The light cools everything down and adds a dark, dramatic quality to your photographs. Images can take on a melancholy quality in the soft cold light. The fortunate thing is that it occurs twice a day and can be captured in clear or cloudy skies. Read on to discover how to find the Blue Hour and how to capture its desolate light.
Illustrated Guide to Finding And Capturing The Blue Hour
When is The Blue Hour?
Your local Blue hour depends on the time of year, distance from the equator and where you are in the world. In the morning it actually starts before sunrise and precedes the Golden Hour. In the evening you should be in place at sunset then watch as the light gently turns from warm orange and red to the cooler, blue hues of the Blue Hour. It lasts for a little while after golden colours in the sky have disappeared and when the sun has dropped well out of sight.
If you live close to the equator the rise and fall of the sun are fast so the Blue hour could be over extremely quickly. If you are far away from the equator you are further from the sun and the Blue hour will last a little longer and give you a little extra time to record the light in your images.
Finding The Blue Hour!
Coordinate your trip to catch the Blue hour during the two daily Blue hours by consulting your local weather app on your smartphone. The app will provide the exact times of Sunrise and Sunset. Check the day before and plan your trip to arrive in plenty of time well before sunup or well before sunset. Use digital services online to help you catch the Blue hour. They can help to pinpoint exactly the times for your location and season.
To find these services online, type “Blue Hour Calculator” into the search on your phone app store or into your web browser on your computer. The information provided is extensive and relatively accurate for your exact location and will help you get to the right place at the right time.
How do You Prepare For The Blue Hour?
Be aware of what time the Blue hour will occur at your chosen location and arrive well before sunrise or sunset. Consider the location ahead of time, imagine how it will appear, what features or details there might be and where you will stand to capture a great photo. Check that you know what direction the sun will rise or set. Be sure to check the weather report and hope for a clear sky. The apps will help you with all of these unknowns. The Blue Hour is a very brief opportunity so arrive in good time to set up and prepare.
Urban Blue Hour
The difference Between The Two Blue Hours in One Day
We know that there are two Blue Hours every day; one at each end of the day when the sun is not visible in the sky. During the Blue hour, the longer wavelengths of red light pass straight through into space while the shorter wavelengths of blue light are scattered in the atmosphere, and thus reaches Earth’s surface. This is why the Blue hour light, that occurs at both ends of the day, is so named.
The sequence of sky colours is different at the opposite ends of the day. In the morning at the start of the Blue hour, the sky will be a deep inky blue/black and quickly moving through a range of saturated blue hues ending with a tinge of orange as it moves into the Golden hour.
In the evening the sequence will be reversed starting with the orange-tinged blue sky, quickly moving through the increasingly saturated blue hues to an inky blue/black. Being armed with the knowledge of the sequence and timings of the Blue hour will leave you well prepared to predict and capture great photographs in this brief spectacle of cold light.
Why is The Blue Hour Light so Special?
Artists and photographers have appreciated the soft muted light of the Blue hour for centuries. It has an ability for creating tranquil, serene, peaceful and melancholy atmospheres in photography. It’s not easy to pinpoint the Blue hour so fewer people try, leaving those that put in the effort, to capture some very unique photographs.
It only happens at the extreme ends of the day when there are fewer people around so you can express that mood of loneliness and isolation. Images become more monotonal and simplified like a black and white print but still with this essence of colour to inject it with some energy. The deep blue graduated hues make a perfect backdrop for landscapes and cityscapes. The cool blue tones complement perfectly with the warmer tones of artificial light and fire.
Urban Blue Hour
Complementary colours of Blue Hour sky and artificial lighting.
You can capture them together if you get the timing just right. Because the sun is absent there will be no harsh shadows and a strong light source to deal with. The contrast will be lower and the scene will be easier to meter making it possible to reveal good detail in the shadow areas if necessary.
How do You Photograph The Blue Hour?
The light will be much dimmer than usual so you will need longer shutter speeds or bigger apertures. A tripod will be an indispensable piece of kit. Select a low ISO number to minimise noise and a suitable aperture to record the depth-of-field you want to see. Use the Manual mode for full control of the exposure. For speed, you could use Aperture Priority mode to control the D-O-F as the light levels will change slightly as the Blue hour progresses. Focusing may be difficult in the low light so look for a brighter object to focus on or switch to manual focusing.
Don’t forget that a smaller aperture opening will guarantee that more of the scene will be in focus. Choose a shutter speed that will deliver the desired result. If you want some motion blur to streak clouds or flatten a gently rippling ocean, consider a very long shutter speed and balance the exposure with the aperture. Shoot in RAW so that you have the latitude to post-process and recover any lost detail in shadows or highlights. As the contrast will be low, meter on the midtones so the dark and light areas are not blown-out.
For the white balance, you should probably avoid the Auto White Balance as the strongly blue bias of the sky light might confuse the meter and it may attempt to warm up the ambient light colour. If your camera allows, you can dial in the Kelvin setting directly. Choose a neutral setting of around 5000K or use the “Daylight” preset which is fairly neutral and won’t force an opposite, correcting colour cast.
If you try the “Cloudy” or “Shade” presets in the WB settings, they will have the effect of warming up the blue sky by imposing an opposite orange cast and basically dilute the cool blue colour of the sky. You can check how the different WB settings look in the live view and adjust to suit the blue tones.
The Blue Hour in Different Seasons
As the days get shorter the sun is lower in the sky for longer periods so the Blue hour is extended. This gives you a little more time to capture your Blue Hour photographs.
As the days get longer the sun is higher in the sky for longer periods so the Blue hour, sunset and sunrise are all reduced in duration. This gives you much less time to capture your Blue hour images but the light and blue hues will be intensified for some very dramatic twilight or gloaming light.
What is The Golden Hour in Photography? How to Capture it!
This occurs adjacent to the Blue Hour and produces a magical, glowing, warm light that photographers love to capture. You can read our illustrated guide on how to get the best out of it on this blog right here.
How Do You Get Lens Flare in Photography?
This is another strange effect caused by the sun or a powerful light source, particularly a low-lying sun. It can be considered by some to be undesirable but others embrace it as a way to add drama and a cinematic effect to their photographs. It’s all explained in our illustrated guide, here.