How to take photos during the Blue Hour (A beginner's guide)

First published:
September 30, 2020
February 6, 2024

How to take photos during the Blue Hour (A beginner's guide)

First published:
September 30, 2020
February 6, 2024

Cover image from Tom Lowe

The 'blue hour' is one of the most popular times for capturing images and universally-loved by outdoor photographers

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, photographed during the Blue Hour
'Brandenburg Gate' by Jeremy Flint - f11 | 5s exposure

What is the blue hour?

So what is the blue hour and when does it occur? Put simply, the blue hour occurs twice a day and refers to the period before sunrise and after sunset when the sky turns a deep shade of blue. The light is very soft at this time and light levels are low due to the sun being quite some distance below the horizon.

If you are in a city, for example, you can witness the blue hour as the light of the setting sun fades and the ambient hues of the sky start to change to a rich blue colour. In the evening, this occurs at the end of what is known as the civil twilight, just after the golden hour when the artificial street lights are turned on. In the morning, it always coincides with the start of civil twilight that takes place just before the golden hour.

The blue hour can be a wonderful time of day in which to take pictures as it also makes a pleasant change to the golden hour and is usually less crowded.

Waves sweep across the concrete jetty at Blyth Beach on the Northumberland coast.
'Swept' from Tom Lowe - f16 | 1.6s exposure
Top tip:

Although called the blue hour, it doesn't actually mean the phenomenon occurs for an entire 60 minutes. It usually lasts around 20 to 30 minutes depending on your location, the time of year, and the speed at which the sun rises and sets.

Photographing during the blue hour is gaining in popularity thanks to the advancement in cameras and their ability to capture images in low light.

It can be a great time to photograph a familiar daytime scene in a different tone and provides a wonderful opportunity to capitalise on the fading light.

Blue hour on Lake Toblino, Northern Italy.
'Blue Hour on the Lake' by Mattia Bonavida - f6.3 | 8s exposure

How to take pictures during the blue hour

If you are a beginner and are new to blue hour photography, here are some tips to help you get started:

1 Use a tripod or something stable for support

As blue hour occurs during the early morning or later in the evening you will be shooting in low light. Therefore you are likely to need some support for your camera. One of the best accessories available is a tripod. Otherwise, I recommend using a table or wall surface to keep the camera stable and to capture sharper images.

2 Set the camera’s remote timer

Another consideration to minimise any unwanted camera shake and to achieve sharper pictures is to set the camera’s remote timer. Setting the timer to 2 seconds or more will help prevent any movement when capturing your images.

3 Use specific camera settings

When shooting scenes during the blue hour you will want to try and get the all of the elements within the frame in focus so your image is crisp and clear. The best way to achieve this is to select a lens aperture somewhere between f/8 to f/16.

If you keep your ISO low too at say 100 or 200 this will help keep any potential noise from shooting in low light to a minimum. Depending on the brightness of a scene, a shutter speed of anything over 5 seconds usually works best. A shutter speed of this duration typically allows enough light to enter your camera so all the elements of the scene can be captured clearly.

Not all light conditions will be the same however, and the shutter speed will need to be increased as darkness continues to fall as more light will need to enter the camera. So experimenting with various shutter speeds is recommended.

Blue hour in a German town
Image by Jeremy Flint - f/13 | 30s

What subjects to shoot?

Landscapes, seascapes and the urban environment are particularly strong subjects for blue hour photography.

Try starting with cityscapes that include artificial streetlights and architecture. These subjects contrast greatly with the natural blue glow from the sky during the blue hour which is why many photographers consider to be their favourite time of day to photograph a cityscape.

With landscapes and seascapes, you could include the the moon to add an additional light source to the scene. You may also like to try capturing roads with car light trails, bridges, jetties and a fairground which all make great subjects to photograph during this magical time.

Here are some beautiful examples from a range of photographic genres:

Blue hour cityscape of Shanghai, China
'Blue Hour in Shanghai' from Chris Peterson-Clausen - f9 | 14s exposure
Blue hour in the polder, a fog is slowly clearing, 30 minutes till sunrise, -12*C Cars pass by in a hurry over this little shortcut in the infrastructure and fail to see the beauty that is happening outside
'Blue Rush' from Martijn van der Nat - f8 | 1.6s exposure
A view of the Hungarian Parliament from fishermens bastion in Budapest just after sunset and at the start of blue hour.
'Hungarian Parliament at Fisherman's Bastion' from Alain Poirot - f16 | 3s exposure
Dusk at Mount Bromo, Indonesia
'Dusk at Mount Bromo' from Jansen Chua - f11 | 30s exposure
Portrait of a Guilin Cormorant Fisherman at dusk
'Guilin Cormorant Fisherman' from Perspective Photography - f2 | 1/160s exposure

With these tips on how to capture the blue hour, it’s now your turn to go out and try it for yourselves!

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