Have you ever heard of the blue hour? If you’ve been involved with photography for a while, you’ve most likely come across the term, the golden hour. That’s a period of time, either in the morning or the evening, when the sun sits low on the horizon. The sky gets orange or red and you’ll see photographers flocking to beaches and anywhere else they’ll get a good shot. Photography turns magical during the golden hour.
You can probably consider the blue hour as a subset of night photography. This is a period of time (about an hour) after sunset where the sky is dimly lit by residual light of the sun. There may be a bit of orange left way down on the horizon, but mostly, the sky will be dark blue. A long exposure time will bring that right out and you’ll see it as plain as day. If the moon is out, the blue hour can extend for many hours throughout the night. As long as there is light to offer color, you’ll be able to see and capture the blue with your camera.
Let me show you an example of this type of photography.
In the image above, you can still see a fair bit of orange from the sunset, but I think this would be considered as something that’s occurring during the blue hour. As I said, the blue hour can actually extend far beyond twilight and go into the night. If the moon is out, you’ll be in for a special treat, beyond the offering of color. I’ll talk more about that below.
In today’s post, I’d like to discuss the various settings that are necessary to capture these kinds of shots. Some settings will be as simple as adjusting the shutter speed, while others will require you to go into full Manual Mode and make a few more adjustments. There’s nothing terribly complicated about this kind of photography, but I will tell you that you’ll definitely need a tripod. As with any night photography, long exposure times are common and blur can rear it’s ugly head without the proper equipment.
As photographing the blue hour is considered night photography, all the rules of focusing your camera in the dark apply. If you haven’t read my post on how to focus at night, I encourage you to do so. Once you get your camera set up correctly, the fun will begin.
What I’m going to do below is concentrate on specific camera settings. I know people like to cut to the chase with this sort of thing so they can run outside to experiment, so I’d like to make it easy for them. Here’s what I would do if I were going outside at, say, 9pm or 10pm for a photo shoot. .
First, I’d find my scene. Then, I’d set my tripod up and attach my camera to it. Once I set up my camera and have it pointed at whatever it is I’d like to photograph, I’d dial in the focus according to the instructions in that post I just linked to.
Okay, here’s the important part – the camera settings. Since this is night photography, I’m going to need a long shutter speed. Depending on how dark it is out, I’ll set my camera to Shutter Priority Mode (denoted by an S or a Tv on the dial) and then set the shutter speed to something between 15 and 30 seconds. Also, since I don’t want my camera to automatically set the ISO to something too high, I’ll manually set that to either 100 or 200. If I’ve got a lens that can handle a large aperture, the camera will most likely adjust that for me. Because of the darkness, I’d like the aperture to be large. It’s got to let as much light in as possible.
Regarding the moon, if it’s out, I want to let you know that the light from it can dramatically alter the brightness and color of your photos. If there’s no moon in the sky and you’re shooting about a half hour after sunset, you’re likely to get a nice, even blue across the (clear) sky. If the moon is out, the blue will be somewhat diminished because of that added light. Also, if you happen to point your camera right at the moon and try to focus on it, you’ll see the scene’s lighting go haywire. I wouldn’t suggest focusing on the moon itself. Let it sit off to the side.
Getting a Starburst From the Moon
I have previously mentioned (on this blog) that small aperture sizes give off starburst effects when it comes to the sun or to the moon. If you’d like to display one of these effects in your blue hour photographs, you’ll have to switch your camera to use Manual Mode. Again, I would use a 30 second exposure, an ISO of 100 or 200 and then I’d set my aperture to f/11 or smaller. For an example of a starburst effect with an f/11 aperture size, please take a look at the third photo found on this page. I took those photos recently while on a nearby cliff in Maine. With a small aperture size, you can turn a regular looking moon into a very special looking one.
Please remember, the smaller your aperture, the longer your shutter speed time will need to be. Since your ISO will be set to a low value, it’s going to be a balance between shutter speed and aperture size. If you’ve got a nice large aperture and the moon is illuminating the sky, you can probably get away with a shutter speed of around five seconds. You’ll need to experiment with this. Keeping the shutter open for too long of a time while the moon is out can overexpose a photo.
Night photography, especially photography taken during the blue hour, can wake up otherwise boring and normal looking photos. Sure, a scene may be interesting or even beautiful during the daylight hours, but at night, with the right camera settings and under the right conditions, you can bring that scene to life.
I hope I offered something valuable in this post. I hope I gave you some settings to go out there and experiment with for this type of shooting. If you have any questions regarding this post, please let me know in the comment section down below. Also, as always, you can ask me or anyone else questions in the discussion forum.