Shooting During the Blue Hour

Don’t Miss this Twilight Photography Tips

While almost everyone in the photography fraternity knows about the golden hour, not much is actually discussed about the “blue hour”. No wonder, people who shoot at the golden hour of the day pack their gear and leave for the comfort of their hotel rooms.

They don’t realize that they just missed another important time of the day, that’s just perfect for shooting landscapes and other scenes, especially long exposures.

Related Post: Long exposure photography tips

So, what is the blue hour?

Twilight | 暮光 by JΛCK VIΞW
Twilight | 暮光 by JΛCK VIΞW

The blue hour, or the twilight hour of the day, is the one which is about half an hour before sunrise and about half an hour after sunset, depending on the time of the year.

Needless to say, it is the time of the day that precedes the golden hour in the morning and succeeds the golden hour in the evening.

The characteristics of this time of the day is the blue sky that has hints of purple and magenta along with navy blue.

The light is just perfect if you love shooting long exposures because this is the time when the street lights come on and against the backdrop of a blue textured sky they just look fabulous.

Tools you will need:

Tripod

The first thing that you will need, apart from a good camera, is a tripod. I say a good camera to mean that it should be good enough to handle low light without you having to unnecessarily jack up the ISO. In anyways you would mostly be shooting long exposures, so are not concerned with higher ISO. Notwithstanding, a camera with a good low light performance will not harm.

Twilight by Moyan Brenn
Twilight by Moyan Brenn

Speaking of long exposures, that’s exactly why you need a tripod. The reason a bean bag or a ledge or a wall or even your strong arms will not make the cut is because these are not perfect. You will be limited in your options for creative angles and you also risk inducing unwanted image blur.

Wide Angle Lenses

I have put my finger on a specific type of lenses but the truth is anything is suitable as long as it allows you to capture the shot you have in your mind. Even an 18-200mm kit lens will do as long as you wield it properly. A wide angle lens simply allows you to capture more of a scene.

I find zoom lenses to be slightly better off, especially when it comes to shooting landscapes. This is because zooming with your feet is not always feasible when you are shooting landscapes, cityscapes or other scenes. Shooting long exposures in the blue hour is no different.

Neutral Density Filter

Hong Kong twilight by Prachanart Viriyaraks
Hong Kong twilight by Prachanart Viriyaraks

Neutral density filters help you to balance an exposure in tricky lighting conditions. E.g., if one specific area of the frame is brightly lit (imagine a sunset or a sunrise when the sun is closer to the horizon) and the rest is underexposed. You need something like a reverse neutral density filter so that you can stop light at around the horizon line and thereby balance the exposure.

You need something like a reverse neutral density filter so that you can stop light at around the horizon line and thereby balance the exposure.

Overall, neutral density filters help you to reduce the amount of light that enters the camera for a given exposure. For example, a one stop neutral density filter will allow you to increase the exposure by a whole stop. A two stop neutral density filter will allow you to use the shutter speed that’s two stops slower and so on. In effect a neutral density filter allows you to capture motion blur.

For example, a one stop neutral density filter will allow you to increase the exposure by a whole stop. A two stop neutral density filter will allow you to use the shutter speed that’s two stops slower and so on. In effect a neutral density filter allows you to capture motion blur.

Related Post: Which filter do I need for my DSLR?

Circular Polarizers

Circular polarizers do two things really. First, they polarize the light that enters the lens, which in turn reduces glares and reflections. The second thing is that they stop a bit of light as well which is great when you are shooting long exposures.

Circular polarizers are great when you want to enhance the sky and produce a bit of texture. These are ill-advised when you wish to capture a bit of reflection in the water of something as famous as the Arc de Triomphe or the Colosseum. However, these would work excellently when you wish to enhance the textures in the sky when capturing images in a twilight.

Color Enhancing Filters

Twilight in La Défense by David Bertho
Twilight in La Défense by David Bertho

Color enhancing filters like the Hoya FL-W filter enhances the golden and purple tones in an image. That can accentuate the colors in a scene giving the image an enhanced aesthetic appearance when shooting in the blue hour.

Sometimes, photographers are guilty of shooting a composition with lots of empty boring sky in it. You really can’t help it if there is no cloud in the sky. But at the least, you can choose to come back. The other alternative would be to use a color enhancing filter like the above.

The second one is a much better option. Some modern photographers prefer using Photoshop and pulling the tint slider to enhance the color tones. However, if you are a purist you would opt for one of these. It helps you to get as much of the image in camera as possible.

Cable release

A cable release is a must have and together with a tripod, this combination ensures that there is absolutely no movement of the camera when an exposure is made. It is imperative that the camera does not move or else your exposures will be wasted efforts.

Alternatively to using a cable release would be to shoot in mirror lockup. This option locks the mirror in ‘Up’ position which eliminates some amount of shake due to the mirror flipping out during an exposure.

Patience

The last thing that you need is patience, plenty of it too. When others have packed up for the day and have either left or ready to leave, you will have to man your position and allow the light to start playing its last trick of the day.

The blue hour is the last glorious hurrah of the day that’s about to come to an end and if you know how to use the light you are in for some fun!

Camera settings

Long exposures are almost always shot using the smallest aperture that a photographer can get away with. I use the phrase “get away with” because there is a small thing called lens diffraction. That can seriously affect the sharpness of your images at bigger f-stops.

Ideally, shoot with an aperture that is a compromise between sharpness and the maximum depth of field. The larger f-stop also allows you to use a really long exposure. White balance should be around 4500 ° kelvin. However, that being said it will depend on the exact light conditions. Shoot in RAW, period.
Twilight by Moyan Brenn
Twilight by Moyan Brenn

What could you shoot? – Light trails

Literally, the options are endless and you can use your imagination. Light trails are one such theme you can concentrate on. Light trails from cars and automobiles make for an intriguing composition, especially when they are shot against a deep blue sky.

Time lapses

Time-lapses are a way to capture the passage of time in a short few seconds. The trick is in capturing a series of images of the same scene and then combining them together in a software. The product can be awe inspiring.

Related Post: How to make stunning time-lapse videos

Motion blur of clouds

Not all long exposures have to be centered on time lapses; that is if you wish to capture the essence of the passage of time. You can do the same just by using the elements present in the image itself. A long exposure which captures the clouds rolling in can be just as effective as capturing a time lapse sequence.

Architecture

The Eiffel tower in Paris, the great pyramid of Giza, the Taj Mahal at Agra are some of the most iconic architecture that man has ever been made. Images of them almost always are shot clichéd. The same angle, the same lighting, and the same result. How about shooting a long exposure when during the blue hour of the day?

Hope the above tips were helpful in divulging some of the myth that is associated with shooting during the blue hour.

Go ahead and use these tips to make your next masterpieces!

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