Become a “shooting star” overnight! Photographing the magical “Blue Hour”
You really feel like a rock star when you learn the “Blue Hour” technique for creating photo magic after dark. It is not very difficult. These few considerations will get you on your way.
We’ve just finished our first photo tour of the year with a small group of dedicated photographers in the Netherlands. Just about every evening and one very early morning we were able to produce beautiful images during the magical Blue Hour. This is an easy photographic technique that produces stunning results. Follow along and give it a try. A tripod and familiarity with shooting in “manual” are all you need. Here is the “recipe.”
- The optimal time for getting the best balance of artificial and ambient light is between 30 and 45 minutes after sunset or 45 to 30 minutes before sunrise. This can vary depending on the latitude and in which direction you are pointing your camera.
- A tripod is essential.
- Look for scenes with some kind of warm artificial light to balance and compliment the blue ambient light of the sky. During the day when you are out exploring train yourself to look for interesting blue hour compositions and artificial light sources that will illuminate the scene at night. Many tourist attractions are illuminated at night.
A famous windmill in the middle of Haarlem in The Netherlands
The medieval Koppelpoort gate in Amersfoort in the Netherlands
The beautiful “Field of Miracles” in Pisa, Italy
- Small direct light sources pointing toward your camera can be great, especially if you stop your lens down to f16 to create a starburst effect. Check your captured images on your LCD to make sure you are not getting unsightly flare from direct light sources. You can clone out some flare in post-processing. The further away those direct light sources are the more starburst effect you will get and the less flare and unsightly blasted-out blobs of light.
- Use a cable/shutter release.
- Avoid underexposing as you will have a lot of noise in your dark shadows. Bring your exposure up so that your highlights are not washed out. Don’t worry about small direct light sources like street lamps as those will always be washed out unless you do a separate exposure for them and blend them into the scene in Photoshop. That is a whole different topic, Exposure Blending.
- Adjust your ISO higher if your exposure needs more than 30 seconds. Remember that at the higher ISOs, you will get more noise in your images.
The photograph below taken in Manarola in Italy presents a situation where the dark foreground area had unsightly noise in the shadows. I used noise reduction software in Photoshop to reduce the effect.
Early morning Blue Hour in Venice
For this early morning Blue Hour in Venice we get up at 4 am so that we have San Marco Square all to ourselves (except for the occasional other photographers). We are then not only rewarded with beautiful images but also our first delicious cappuccino of the day.
Blue Hour at Lake Bled in Slovenia
“Nightwatch” – a beautifully illuminated chapel high up in the mountains of Northern Slovenia
This beautiful starburst was achieved by using F11 or F16 during the Blue Hour in Burano in Italy