How do outdoor photographers utilize the beauty of natural light? Uncover tips for mastering the magic of the blue hour with advice from these five photographers.
You know and understand the rules of the golden hour, but what about her more mysterious sister, the blue hour? This strange and fickle time arrives shortly before sunrise and after sunset; as the sun rises or sinks to about four to eight degrees below the horizon, its rays turn the sky into a blazing expanse of sapphire, indigo, and iris. The blue hour affects different corners of the world differently; while remote locales boast the purest of all twilight skies, the artificial light of bustling metropolises harmonize to create a surreal symphony with nature.
Photographers have long been enchanted with the blue hour, but the name itself is deceptive. Depending on your location, the blue tint might last for only fifteen minutes; if you’re lucky, you might get half an hour. Because the blue hour is so fleeting, we reached out to six expert photographers to see how they contend with this enchanting but brief window of time. Below, they share stories from blue hours around the globe and offer their best tips for capturing some of your own.
1. “Visiting the same place more than once often helps you to be more aware of good shot opportunities.”
Image by Andrew Balcombe. Gear: Canon 60D camera, Sigma 17-50mm lens. Settings: Focal length 50mm; exposure 1/60 sec; f5.6; ISO 125.
What’s the story behind this photo?
I was up early in the Dutch countryside to take photos for a rural magazine. By chance, I saw this scene present itself and was in the right place at the right time. Often just getting up before sunrise will give you the opportunity to experience great light. I like this shot for its symmetry and simple, minimal look. I broke the rule of thirds to emphasize the sky and also to provide extra copy space for any advertiser who wanted to buy the image.
Image by Andrew Balcombe. Gear: Canon 60D camera, Sigma 17-50mm lens. Settings: Focal length 17mm; exposure 1/80 sec; f6.3; ISO 500.
When shooting the blue hour, I set up on my tripod with the image stabilization of my lens turned off. For proper landscape photography, the tripod is essential. I bought a second-hand aluminum tripod from a thrift shop (no lie); it’s about 25 years old! I don’t even know the brand. The tripod slows me down enough so that I become more selective with the shot I’m choosing. Once I have found my composition, I always check my histogram for correct exposure and zoom into 100% magnification of the shot to make sure it’s sharp.
Don’t forget to look behind you. I’ve often found spectacular shots in the opposite direction from what I expected. Atmospheric conditions change quickly, so be aware of the scenery and how it changes. Visiting the same place more than once often helps you to be more aware of good shot opportunities. The number one rule for blue hour shooting, however, is to be at your location early for pre-sunrise shots and to stay longer for post-sunset shots. I always stay until I’m absolutely sure I cannot squeeze anything further from the scene.
2. “I like to use as low an ISO as possible, around 100-200, to get the best possible quality and to keep as much color detail in the image.”
Image by Palle Christensen. Gear: Canon 5D camera, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens. Settings: Focal length 105mm; exposure 1/500 sec; f.4; ISO 100.
What’s the story behind this photo?
This photo was taken near the city of Viborg in Denmark. I have walked to this lake near my home many times to capture both the blue hour and the sunrise. I was looking for a clear sky to get the maximum effect of the color range from orange to blue, and I was also looking for quiet water so the reflection would bring the colors to life. So, I went out very early to make the composition. When I saw two birds getting ready to fly, I framed the shot so that they created a line in the water and a point of interest. Here in Viborg, it is very quiet in the morning, and I love to hear nature waking up. The birds started to sing as they flew by, and the light changed from darkness to blue and orange. It was a special moment.