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Photography Glossary

What is Blue Hour in Photography?

August 18, 2023 by

This is a guide covering the blue hour.

Blue hour is a magical moment for photographers to capture some unique and special-looking images.

With that being said, let’s dive in!

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Owen Clarke
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What is Blue Hour?

When the sun has just set or is about to rise, the sky overhead turns a deep blue color, and the landscape is bathed in bluish light, this is the blue hour.

When photographing cityscapes, blue hour is, of course, the most wonderful time. You must be wondering if you have a photographer buddy who still packs up and leaves after sunset.

What would they be doing at this time? The answer is to frame the Blue Hour.

The sun has sunk below the horizon by a certain amount.

The sky picks up a cool, crisp blue color before it gets too dark or what we refer to as night. It is when the sky gets dusky blue.

When you see photos with a clear blue hue, it is possible that the photographer took advantage of blue hour.

The moon’s glare is not as vivid in comparison to the sky during the blue hour, so it is a good time to photograph it.

blue hour example
blue hour image

What Time is Blue Hour?

Although it is called the blue hour, it does not last an hour. In fact, it usually lasts between 20 and 40 minutes, but it can be even shorter.

The length of the blue hour varies depending on the season and where you are in the world on any given day.

The good news is that there are a plethora of websites and applications that can quickly and easily provide you with information on the blue hour.

The sky is a deep blue shade during the blue hour, with a cool color temperature and saturated colors. A gradient of colors, from blue to orange, can be seen right alongside the sunset and sunrise at the beginning (evening) and end (morning).

The exact time of the blue hour varies by region and depends on the time of year and the temperature of the weather.

Buildings and streetlights are already on in cities, making it a perfect time for urban and city photography and urbexing. Because of the various shades of sky and color saturation, it is also perfect for landscape photography.

Since the blue hour falls during civil twilight, it will be a fine time to photograph the moon.

A gradient of colors, from blue to orange, can be seen in the sky during the blue hour.

During this time, the sky is blue, with yellow and red tones in the place where the sun rises and sets.

The blue hour occurs in the evening, just after the golden hour, which coincides with the end of civil twilight. It also occurs shortly before the golden hour in the morning, coinciding with the first portion of the civil twilight.

blue hour example city
example of blue hour

What Causes the Blue Hour?

The blue hour happens when the Sun is low enough below the horizon that the blue wavelengths of sunlight dominate due to ozone’s Chappuis absorption.

The absorption of electromagnetic radiation by ozone, which is particularly noticeable in the ozone layer, which absorbs a small portion of sunlight in the visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, is referred to as Chappuis absorption.

Including dawn, dusk, and the three phases of sunset, the term has no official meaning since it is a colloquial term.

Rather, it refers to a natural lighting condition that occurs around the time of twilight’s nautical level (at dawn or dusk).

What Makes the Blue Hour “Blue”?

The blue hour can be a dazzling spectacle when the sky is bright, with the indirect sunlight tinting the sky yellow, orange, red, and blue.

The infeasibility of shorter wavelengths (bluer rays) of visible light versus longer wavelengths causes this effect (redder rays).

Red light travels through space during the blue “hour,” while blue light is dispersed in the atmosphere and thus hits the Earth’s surface.

An atmospheric scattering effect produces the various colors of sunset.

Different wavelengths of light are filtered out by the Earth’s atmosphere when the solar height angle—the angle of the Sun above or below the horizon—changes during the transition between day and night, leaving the remaining rays of light to stain the sky in ever-changing hues.

The Sun is so far below the horizon during the blue hour that the atmosphere scatters only the short-wave blue light, which is reflected back to Earth.

The longer red wavelengths, on the other hand, move through it and into space.

Why is Blue Hour Important in Photography?

There are plenty of reasons why blue hour is important in photography.

1. Fewer Photographers

In comparison to sunrise and sunset, blue hour attracts fewer photographers. This allows you to catch one-of-a-kind photographs and photograph iconic places with little or no crowds.

2. Express Feelings

Blue hour is a brilliant way to express those feelings in your images that would be difficult to capture otherwise. Blue hour images are usually dark and have high contrast.

The color blue evokes a variety of feelings, including calm, sorrow, harmony, and independence. But keep in mind that these emotions do not work for every photo, but if your scene demands darkness and blue tones, it is hard to beat this time of day.

3. Simplification

Blue hour simplifies the pictures in a similar way. Unlike sunrise and sunset, when you can catch a wide variety of colors, photographs taken during blue hour are more monotonous.

At the right times of day, even vivid subjects like green trees and red rock formations take on a blue hue.

4. Contrast

When parts of your picture do not turn blue during the blue hour, there is one critical circumstance to consider.

It occurs when the image contains additional light sources.

This is particularly true when using high-pressure sodium bulbs or other lights with a warm color temperature.

Simply put, in situations like this (mostly cityscape photography), the picture can have a lovely orange/blue color contrast that gives the image some punch.

However, you will need to time this carefully because there is normally just a brief window where the sky and city lights are around the same brightness, resulting in the evenest exposure.

Blue Hour vs Golden Hour

Blue hour is not as well-known as the golden hour, but it produces equally—if not more—magical photography performance.

Photographers adore this time of day because the light is gentle and natural. In addition to the deep blue, you might notice some pink, purple, and red tones in the sky.

Patience is the most important quality to have while photographing blue hour.

It is best to arrive early at your chosen location and begin experimenting with compositions before blue hour arrives. You will want to be prepared because the blue hour is so brief.

Of course, if you arrive early enough, you can capture some golden hour and sunset shots before blue hour starts.

The words ‘golden hour’ and ‘blue hour’ are misleading since they rarely last an hour; depending on your venue, they can last as little as fifteen minutes. The golden hour happens between sunrise and sunset when the sun is low on the horizon and casts a bright glow.

These sparkling times of day have served as muse and inspiration to countless artists over the years, despite their transient existence.

While each period elicits different emotions, they both produce an ethereal, often otherworldly environment and necessitate many of the same techniques.

Blue hour, like golden hour, aka the magic hour, comes and goes so quickly that it is easy to forget. It usually does not last a full hour, but only 20 to 40 minutes.

The blue hour can vary in length and timing depending on where you are, the temperature of the weather, and the season.

blue hour vs golden hour
blue hour image

Blue Hour Also Known as Twilight

Buildings, museums, cityscapes, and bridges are good subjects to photograph during blue hours because they have artificial light sources.

When the Sun is between 4 and 8 degrees below the horizon, however, the blue color spectrum is most likely to appear. The blue hour, by this description, includes elements of both nautical and civil twilight.

Nautical Twilight

Put simply, Nautical twilight is the second period of sunset. At this time, both the horizon and the brighter stars are normally visible, allowing for navigation at sea.

The geometric core of the Sun’s disk is between 6 and 12 degrees below the horizon during nautical twilight. During this twilight period, the horizon is faintly visible in clear weather.

Many of the brighter stars can also be seen, allowing navigation at sea to be based on the location of the stars in relation to the horizon.

This is why the phenomenon is known as nautical twilight.

Civil Twilight

On the other hand, Civil twilight is the most visible of the three twilight periods. Since the Sun is just below the horizon, there is enough natural light for most outdoor activities.

The geometric center of the Sun’s disk is at most 6 degrees below the horizon during civil twilight. This twilight period ends at sunrise in the morning and starts at sunset in the evening.

The moments when the Sun’s upper edge meets the horizon are known as sunrise and sunset.

Since the Earth’s atmosphere scatters and absorbs most of the Sun’s rays, turning the sky bright yellow and orange, most outdoor activities do not need artificial lighting in clear weather.

With the naked eye, only the brightest stars and planets, such as Venus and Jupiter, can be seen.

why photograph during blue hour
photographer during blue hour

Why Photograph During Blue Hour?

1. It is Challenging

Shooting at blue hour presents a special challenge simply because it is so brief! It is all too easy to miss if you do not do your homework and arrive prepared.

Similarly, you may be out walking with your camera one evening and notice that the perfect blue hour light has arrived—blue hour can vary greatly.

In any case, it really feels special when you manage to catch it because you have to get those shots in quickly. The time constraint provides a challenging setting in which you can improve your shots.

Even for experienced photographers, capturing the varied lighting that characterizes blue hour is a pleasant challenge.

2. Unique and Aesthetic

It is aesthetic. Golden hour is so famous that it has been featured in over 7 million Instagram hashtags! How about blue hour? Only over a million people.

Of course, Instagram is only one indicator of popularity; it is also likely that many photographers are capturing blue hour without realizing it has a name. However, golden hour can sound overdone at times.

Blue hour is your friend if you are looking for lighting that will set your pictures apart from the rest.

The distinct tones that you can catch during blue hour make your images stand out even more.

Depending on the sky, you may be able to catch vivid purple and red color gradients, or a gentle, diffuse pink light that gives your scene a surreal feel.

3. Makes Your Photos Pop

Contrast is a fantastic way to make the pictures stand out.

When shooting city lights or traffic during the blue hour, the bright reds and yellows of the lights will be set off perfectly by the dazzling blue of the sky, giving your images an amazing built-in contrast.

4. Lovely Silhouette Photography

Who doesn’t like the silhouette of a sunset? Okay, the bright colors can make certain pictures seem too ideal or even cheesy at times.

You may prevent this with blue hour silhouettes, as the indirect light of the hour is ideal for capturing enigmatic and moody silhouetted portraits.

blue hour silhouette
silhouette during blue hour

Check out this video by Alex Strohl to see how he photographers during Blue Hour:

Final Thoughts

Alright, to put this to an end. One of the best aspects of the blue hour is that it can last much longer than it seems.

And when it appears that all of the sun has vanished from the sky and it is too dark to continue shooting, there might be some light left that your camera can detect even though your eyes cannot.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is blue hour before or after sunset?

Blue hour is the period of time just after sunset or just before sunrise when the sun is below the horizon but its indirect light illuminates the sky with a blue hue. Therefore, blue hour occurs after sunset.

What is special about blue hour?

Blue hour is a unique time for photography as the light during this period produces a beautiful blue hue in the sky that adds depth and contrast to photographs. It also provides a narrow window of opportunity for capturing stunning cityscapes, landscapes, and portraits.

How does blue hour happen?

Blue hour happens due to the scattering of sunlight in the Earth’s atmosphere. During this time, the sun is below the horizon, but its indirect light illuminates the sky, creating a unique blue color that gradually fades as the sun rises or sets.