How To Shoot The Blue Hour

Carla Coulson Blue hour

Florence by Carla Coulson taken in winter

Have you ever wondered how to shoot the blue hour – that magic twilight when the sun has set but the night is yet to fully descend?

I have shot the blue hour over and over again and used it as a ‘get out of jail’ card when I was shooting travel stories for magazines and needed a good shot of a city with atmosphere or wanted to have a little fun like with Christmas decorations in Place Vendome (see below).

I even used this technique on miserable, rainy winter days in Europe because even the blue hour works under these conditions – love the blue hour.

What is the blue hour?

The blue hour isn’t actually an hour, it should be called the blue fifteen minutes instead!!

After the sun has set and the pink in the sky fades, the colour temperature cools as the sun goes. This cooling of the colour temperature produces a beautiful blue and it lasts between 10 and 15 minutes before the balance is overridden with the black of the night.

Carla Coulson Blue hour 2

Florence by Carla Coulson taken in Winter

When does it work best?

I find there needs to be a good balance of city and street lights to achieve this result. If you want to shoot a building or city to create this effect they need to be sufficiently lit otherwise you will have a lot of dark areas and bright points. When the city or building is well lit you have a nice balance in the image of blue and street/city lights.

I tried this once on a private home in Provence and too make sure it was well lit we turned on all the inside lights, all the outside lights and added lanterns for more points of light.

Most cities turn their street and monuments lights on right around the blue hour. I have stood waiting in the cold throughout the years begging those lights to come on before the blue was gone and nearly every city turned them on on-time  (thanks guys).

ChristmasPlaceVendome Carla Coulson

Christmas Place Vendome My French Life Copyright by Carla Coulson

How to achieve this effect:

1. Check the time the sunsets where you want to shoot with a program like this

2. Go at least 30 mins before the sunsets and set up your tripod and find your frame because once the light fades you gotta be quick.

3. Work out your focus point before the light fades as it can be tricky once the sun has set.. Technically quiet dark for autofocus and for your eyes if you haven’t got great eyesight.

4. Working on a low ISO of around 400 will still give you room to move with F-Stops..I find working on ISO of 100 gives you little choice with the F-Stops and depth of field and you end up with long exposures of 30 secs plus.

5. Start checking the light meter once the sun has gone because you are about to lose stops of light quickly.

6. Do a test and check focus whilst there is still light

7. Set your camera on self timer or use a remote shutter release so you aren’t touching the shutter when the photo is being taken. You will be working on long shutter speeds so any movement can blur the photo.

8. I normally take photos throughout the 15 mins to see which effect I like. You will need to keep changing the exposure based on the light dropping. Often in the early shots the sky is more cyan blue and then towards the end a little more deeper royal blue.

9. Note on clear blue sky days the blue is more prominent that on grey cloudy days.

10. Once the ‘fifteen minutes’ are up the sky becomes black and the streets lights give a very strong golden cast. The ‘blur hour’  has passed.

I hope this helps you have a little fun taking shots of a place or special thing you love.

My Favourite Gear

Canon EOS 5D Mark III 

Canon EF 24-70mm 

Canon EF 35mm 

Manfrotto Lightweight Tripod

“There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul.” Victor Hugo

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6 Responses to How To Shoot The Blue Hour

  1. jann says:

    Thanks, Carla, for the wonderful blue hour tips. I’ll be sure to try. Love your Florence duomo!! Gorgeous.

  2. Brilliant post. Thanks Carla for sharing your wonderful expertise and experience.

    I admire your photos sooooo much — loved the ones in Shay Stafford’s lovely memoir & your other ‘Aussie collaborations’ w/Vicki Archer and Lisa Clifford – all brilliant :)

    Cheers from across the Channel.

  3. adore your photos. xxpeggybraswelldesign.com

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