How to get the most out of shooting during the blue hour

By now everyone's familiar with the basics of shooting in all kinds of natural light, but it's high time we gave some love to the often forgotten blue hour.

Photo by Jannis Lucas

So, what exactly is the blue hour? It is that moment just before sunrise or after sunset when the sun dips below the horizon.

This whimsical window of time is when a soft blue light fills the sky; creating a cool, peaceful setting that is every bit as beautiful as golden hour. This serene atmosphere is the reason for which many people have come to call this moment the 'magical hour.'

Photo by Frank Marcheski

Because blue hour typically lasts a brief 20 minutes (at most), if you're planning to capture it, you need to have a solid plan to make the most of your time.

Let’s take a look at some of the best ways that you can do this:

01. Shoot pre-sunrise

If you have the strength to force yourself out on a cool, crisp morning, the blue hour will most definitely reward you with its magic. The pre-dawn light creates a natural sense of serenity, which is difficult to emulate later in the day. Shooting early in the morning before the sun comes up also guarantees you a still moment in time that is uninterrupted by the hustle and bustle of the day.

02. Experiment with ISO

While most photographers choose to photograph in the blue hour with a low ISO, Jed Forster, a lover of the cooler tones of the hour, says that you shouldn't “be afraid to put your ISO up." He goes on to explain, "Better to have a grainy image than a blurry one.” Today, cameras are more capable than ever when it comes to shooting in low light, so if you don’t have a tripod, you can still get the shot. Just bump up your ISO to capture those beautiful, soulful moments that only seem to come about during blue hour.

03. Capture movement

Since it gets fairly dark at blue hour, you’re going to need a low exposure. You can maximize this by capturing the movement of passing headlights, clouds, and even rushing water. A tripod and a 10 to 20 second exposure goes a hell of a long way when the sun has dipped below the horizon.

Photo by Casey Horner

Bright light trails from cars speeding along a windy road, clouds creeping in between tall trees, or water flowing softly into the shore perfectly balance the soft blue light emanating throughout an epic landscape.

04. Make colors pop

Along with the sun's rays, colors too begin to fade during twilight. Use this to your advantage and create jaw-dropping images by including subjects in your frame that are made up of accentuating, complementary colors (like oranges, reds, or yellows) that truly pop against a blue sky backdrop.

05. Capture reflections of light

Photo by Ryan Card

As the last light is fading away, street lights turn on and illuminate the landscape with bursts of color. With a long exposure, you can capture the dynamic reflections of these lights that are cast upon bodies of water or other glossy surfaces.

Photo by Juan di Nella

Just remember to place your camera on a timer (or use a remote shutter) so that you don't need to touch the camera and risk any blurring as you take the image.

06. Use artificial lights

Photo by Niklas Porter

Using an extra light source allows you to get a bit more creative during the blue hour. As night falls, lampposts can turn even a regular street corner into a magical image.

Photo by Janko Ferlic

Get the tripod out and capture the scene as the light changes. You can also use a flashlight or even a smartphone to draw the viewer’s attention towards the source of light in a shot.

07. Capture silhouettes

It may seem counterintuitive, but skies are actually quite bright during blue hour, which makes it a great time to capture dramatic silhouettes. Keep in mind that because blue hour doesn't last very long, the moment you spot the perfect silhouette, be quick to capture it as soon as you can. In the small window of time that the light changes, this moment could be lost in the abyss of untaken stills that haunts every photographer.

08. Create dreamy portraits

The blue hour creates a distinctly moody atmosphere that can't be captured during the golden hour. Instantly create dreamy portraits with the soft light it brings. Let the mist creep in to add some mystery or use artificial light to make it magical.

The most extraordinary thing about shooting during the blue hour is that you’re capturing the world in a way that not many people tend to see it. While these gently-lit scenes are just as astonishing as those shot during the golden hour, there is just something so undeniably magical about that almost melancholy blue glow.

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