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The Blue Hour in Photography

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The Blue Hour in Photography

The blue hour bathes a city and harbour in blue light (photo by sazVK ©)

via Flickr, © SazVK
The blue hour and the golden hour are names photographers use to describe specific parts of the day when the light has particularly desirable properties for photography. The light found during these times of day can produce some of the most stunning photography possible. While filters can sometimes approximate this lighting effect, it is nearly impossible to capture the true quality of light from the Blue Hour at any other time in any other way.

What is the Blue Hour
The blue hour is the time of day when the light takes on a strong blue tone. The sky becomes a deep and rich blue that appears to have almost a smooth, creamy texture. The earth is covered in the bluish tinted light that gives a feeling of nighttime without hiding details like often is the result of true night photos. The blue hour is an excellent time for taking photos of nighttime objects that are very bright like the moon.

When is the Blue Hour?
When looking at the blue hour and the golden hour, the blue hour generally produces the most unique lighting of the two hours. The blue hour is also the most misleading term as it doesn’t even come close to lasting a full hour. In reality, what photographers call the blue hour really only lasts about 20 minutes. The blue hour generally lasts the 20 to 30 minutes just after sunset and just before sunrise. For example, if the sun sets at 5PM, the blue hour would last from approximately 5:10PM to 5:30PM. If the sun rises at 5AM, the blue hour lasts from about 4:30AM to 4:50AM. The exact timing of the blue hour will vary from location to location and change depending on time of year and air quality.

How Do I Take Blue Hour Photos?
Capturing the blue hour requires a steady platform and a longer exposure than normal daytime photos. While many cameras now include image stabilization either in the camera body or in specific lenses, most of your blue hour photos will be long enough to require an actual tripod or other sturdy platform for your camera because the the fading light strength. Use spot metering or center-weighted average metering and meter off of the darkest point of your intended composition that you want to see in detail. This should allow you to get good detail on the dark point of the composition and the light of the blue hour to shine while not completely blowing out taillights of cars or neon signs if shooting in the city. Do bear in mind that every scene is different and bracketing exposures is always a good idea. You exposure times will most likely start around 3 or 4 seconds and increase from there depending on how much ambient light is in the area of your composition and how many "dark spots" you want to bring out the details on in the photo.

What Should I Photograph During the Blue Hour?
City scenes, sweeping beach landscapes, and architectural images work very well during the blue hour. Because of the longer exposure times, subjects such as wildlife and even still portraits (people wiggle a little no matter how hard they try not to) do not produce great results at this time of day. Wider angle shots such as landscapes work better as well because it gives more space for the blue lighting to fill so that the effect is more noticeable. The plus side of shooting these wider scenes for the blue hour is that you should be able to use a wider lens which usually results in a lower F-Stop so you can capture the most light still available instead of losing much of the light to the barrel of a long lens.

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