Blue hour photographs offer a brief chance for photographers to capture unique images in stunning light. Get started with these ten easy tips to make the most out of your next outdoor shoot.
We love a good golden hour here at Shutterstock, but do you know how to capture perfect blue hour photographs? Blue hour, to be specific, is that magical time just after sunset or just before sunrise when the sky turns blue before or after exploding in color. You generally have about 30-40 minutes past sunset or before sunrise to capture this magical blue color.
Why do we love blue hour so much? Blue hour is perfect for extending that golden hour shoot time while the light is just right, before it gets too dark to shoot. Everything stays soft from golden hour, as opposed to after sunrise or before sunset, when the light can be quite blown out. But how do you capture perfect blue hour photographs?
Image via FrameStockFootages.
We’re sharing a 10 tip guide to capturing the perfect blue hour photograph. Whether you choose to shoot long exposures, or simply amp up your camera to shoot during low light settings, use this guide before your next blue hour photo shoot. Or better yet, bring it along when shooting the golden hour, and extend your shoot time.
Using a Tripod? Consider a Slow Shutter Speed
A slow shutter speed will let enough light in to properly expose blue hour photographs. The sky will be relatively dark, so a tripod will allow you to capture everything in perfect focus without devaluing other camera settings. A good starting point for shooting with a tripod is to set 1/6 seconds as your shutter speed. Adjust from there depending on other light sources in your images.
Image via S-Photography.
No tripod? Adjust Your Other Camera Settings
This is where having a high ISO capability on a camera is super important. It’s key for low light photography. Consider adjusting your ISO higher, and opening up your aperture to a lower setting. For example, for a fixed 50mm 1.2 you should try using the 1.2. Keep in mind that the more you open that aperture, the fewer things will be in focus. While this is great if you’re shooting a portrait or specific area, you should consider using a tripod or adjusting other elements of your camera when you’re shooting any landscape or cityscape.
Image by MehMetO.
Consider a Remote or Self-Timer Shutter Release
Whether you use a tripod or simply have something to prop up your camera, consider using a remote shutter release or a self-timer on your camera. This will help eliminate camera shake, which is one of the main causes for blurry photographs.
Image via Pajar Pawel.
Use a Tripod for Long Exposures
Long exposures are key for blue hour photographs. Blending photographs using this technique is really popular as well. A longer exposure, such as 1/6 seconds, can really soften the look on any water foregrounds you use in your image. Long exposures are also great for taking perfect light trail photographs.
Image via Allen.G.
Set Your Camera to Shoot RAW
Shooting in RAW allows your camera to capture the most data possible. This is incredibly helpful when you edit a blue hour photograph, as you’ll have more data to work with and can adjust more areas without damaging the image. You can adjust things like exposure compensation, white balance, and your highlights or shadows with ease when you shoot in RAW.
Image by Jen Ottoson.
Bring a Flashlight or External Light Source
If you plan to shoot during blue hour but don’t have a lot of carrying capacity or are simply on-the-go, consider bringing a flashlight with you. A flashlight can be a great tool to light surrounding areas that may be underexposed in your photograph. Although we always recommend using professional light sources and photography equipment, sometimes you’ve got to work with what you have. A smartphone light is another great tool that you can use for this.
Image by SasinTipChai.
Lights are Everything
And on a note of flashlights, light really is everything when it comes to blue hour photographs. Take advantage of any light that you see on our scene, as they add to the impact of the photographs. You’re looking for that perfect blend of warm and cool tones to make a beautiful image. This may require some patience while you wait for the lights to come on, but trust us, it’s always worth it to wait.
Image by FrameStockFootages.
Scout Your Location Beforehand
Finding a good location for shooting blue hour photographs is absolutely critical. If the composition isn’t interesting, you can’t hold a viewer’s attention. Your background and foreground work together to create a breathtaking blue hour photograph. Urban locations such as cityscapes work great for blue hour photographs, as you get that warm ambient light in your foreground mixed with the dim sky. The color contrast with the two makes for a really interesting scene. Your background should have no distractions or logos, with a nice clean skyline view. Consider using plants or other objects in nature to frame your subject as well.
Image by Stephane Bidouze.
Time it Right
When it comes to blue hour, timing is everything. As we mentioned, blue hour happens just before sunrise and just after sunset. Look for those city lights coming on, but don’t wait until it’s so dark that it becomes a nighttime shot. Ensure that you check your phone for what time the sun goes down, and plan around that time. Usually, this happens around dinner time depending on what time of the year it is. This is fantastic because there may be fewer people at more popular landmark destinations!
Image by EB Adventure Photography.
Consider Shooting Cityscapes During the Week
A good insider tip is to consider shooting during the week while in the city, as the weekends the offices clear out and it may not be as bright. You want to showcase all of those shining office buildings giving light to your landscape, so plan your shoot around a day of the work week.
Feature image by kavalenkava.
Looking for more inspiration to shooting blue hour photographs? Check out these articles.