Photography Lighting

Blue Hour Photography

Photo of author
Written By Nate Torres

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!

What is Blue Hour?

When the sun has just set or is about to rise, the sky overhead turns a deep blue, 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 wonder 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 call 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 as 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

7 Blue Hour Photography Tips

Here are seven tips to help you make the most of your blue-hour photography:

1. Plan Ahead

The first tip when it comes to photographing during blue hour is to plan ahead.

You can only do blue hour photography during blue hour.

That said, you’ll want to determine when the blue hour will occur in your area by using various apps or checking out sunset websites.

Plan to arrive at your desired location at least 30 minutes before blue hour so you can set up and prepare.

2. Use a Tripod

The second tip for capturing blue hour photographs is to use a tripod.

During blue hour, since the sun has set, the lighting conditions will be low.

This will require longer exposure times, which might cause a slower shutter speed.

Slower shutter speeds might introduce camera shake, so having the tripod by your side will ensure you can still capture sharp images if you do in fact need to lower your shutter speed.

3. Fast Lens and Low ISO

The third tip is to use a fast lens with a wide aperture and to keep your ISO as low as possible.

I recommend using a fast prime lens with a wide aperture, such as f/1.8 or f/2.8, as this will allow you to capture more light in your camera, which will help with the overall low-light setting of blue hour.

Your ISO should be kept as low as possible to minimize noise. I always recommend starting as low as possible and only increasing it once you have your shutter speed and aperture dialed in.

blue hour photo of mountain city
using low ISO during Blue Hour

4. Manual Mode

The fourth tip is to shoot in manual mode.

Without setting your camera to manual mode, you won’t be able to have control over your exposure (aperture, shutter speed, and ISO).

5. Bracketing and HDR

The fifth tip is to consider using bracketing, which is when you capture a series of shots at different exposures.

You’ll want to use bracketing if you want to create an HDR (High Dynamic Range) image in post-processing.

In this case, if you capture images during different phases of Blue Hour, you’ll be able to combine all the images together during post-processing to create a creative-looking image!

6. White Balance

The sixth tip is to pay attention to your camera’s white balance.

I recommend setting your white balance to “Daylight” or manually adjusting it to the 3200-4500K range to enhance the bluish tones in your scene.

7. Long Exposures

The seventh tip is to experiment with some long exposures!

Long exposure techniques work well when you want a dreamy or smooth effect.

This type of look works well during blue hour because this time is dreamy in itself.

I recommend photographing the sky or a body of water during blue hour and capturing a couple of long exposures.

Remember to use a remote shutter release or your camera’s time to prevent camera shake.

long exposure blue hour photo
long exposure blue hour photo

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 and absorbs a small portion of sunlight in the visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, is called Chappuis absorption.

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

Instead, it refers to a natural lighting condition around the nautical level of twilight (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 visible light’s shorter wavelengths (bluer rays) 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 the 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 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 otherwise would be difficult to capture. Blue hour images are usually dark and have high contrast.

The color blue evokes various feelings, including calm, sorrow, harmony, and independence. Remember 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 similarly simplifies the pictures. Unlike sunrise and sunset, when you can catch various colors, photographs taken during blue hour are monotonous.

At the correct 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, one critical circumstance must be considered.

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 performances.

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

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

It is best to arrive early at your chosen location and experiment 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.

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

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.

However, the blue spectrum will most likely appear when the Sun is between 4 and 8 degrees below the horizon. By this description, the blue hour 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.

During civil twilight, the geometric center of the Sun’s disk is at most 6 degrees below the horizon. 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 where 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 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:

How I Shoot 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.

When the sun appears to have 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.

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.