One of the best times to shoot in my opinion is “Blue Hour” This is the period of time after sunset or just before sunrise where the sky is a brilliant colour of blue. Without going into to too much detail about the proper names or the azimuth of the sun, I want to introduce you to this as it will change how you shoot long exposure/ nighttime photos.
Why is Blue Hour So Special?
The main reason is the colour and the light. Many photographers know that sunsets and sunrises are great. I have seen many pack up and leave once the sun is gone. Also I have seen many head out too late thinking that night photography is better when the sky is pitch black. However, there is a magic to this hour and it should not be ignored.
The reason blue hour is so special is because it is dark which means that water and and car lights will streak and blur. However, it is not too dark so that clouds are still visible not to mention that the sky’s a deep blue colour adding a lot more interest than just black. This is important for cityscapes and anywhere that there is a bit of pollution.
The one thing to keep in mind is that it only lasts for an hour and realistically even less. So you have to be on the ball and set up if you want to catch it. This also makes it a bit challenging to shoot as you don’t have much time to move around during blue hour.
Also, it should be noted that blue hour during overcast or rainy skies can work as well. As the light fades blue hour will briefly appear even without a visible sun. This means that even if the sunset was disappointing, the blue hour might save the shot. However, if the skies are too dense then of course this will decrease the amount of time for blue and in some cases cause it not to appear at all.
What Can You Shoot?
My personal favourite are cityscapes as the blue hour allows for the lights of the buildings to be on and the cars to leave light trails. Also you still have detail in the sky and that adds a lot to the frame. It is also not too dark meaning that you will also have detail in the darker part of the frame.
Moving water is another great subject as you can keep the definition in the subject areas but you are able to blur the water. This is the key as like with any long exposure you want to have that sense of motion.
What you want to get out of the blue hour is really what you want to achieve in a night time shot but with much more colour and detail throughout the image. This is why I love this time so much. You can the longer exposures of night photography but you still keep the colour in the sky.
The long and short of this is basically blue hour is great for buildings and architecture, cityscapes and landscapes and as well as anything with moving objects like cars and amusement park rides.
What Happens if I Miss it?
I would almost always say to make sure that you get there before boue hour. I better approach your be to get set up for the sunrise/sunset and then use the blue hour as a finishing point. That way you are there earlier and you already have a sense of the location.
That being said, if you just missed it you can sometimes brighten the sky a bit using a cool graduated filter inside of lightroom. I know that GD filters are pretty sweet but what I mean here is that you cool the temperature down to give a cool colour cast in the sky. This may not always work but it is good to know if you want to attempt to save your shot.
One of the best things about blue hour photography is the fact that you don’t need to do and heavy editing. Most of the colour is already there. For the example below from Busan, South Korea it only took me a few moments to get this image looking great. I will also be showing how I edited this photo in an up coming tutorial over at learn.jasonteale.com so be sure to look for that.
At any rate, basically this photo was adjusted merely to sharpen and bring out the natural pop of the blue hour. It was shot about 1 stop over to make it a little brighter but that is about it. Drag the slider back and forth to see the difference.
Your Mission… Should You Choose To Accept It
Get out there and shoot some blue hour shots. Play around by increasing your f-stop to get longer exposures. If possible try getting onto a rooftop somewhere and see your city from a new angle. Let me know how you did in the comments below or post your photos in the comment section on my facebook page