Golden Hour is a great time of day to take photos, but Blue Hour is even better. The intriguing blue hue that fills the sky makes for a unique photo. The caveat? You only have about fifteen minutes to get your shot.
So, what exactly is Blue Hour? Blue Hour occurs when the sun is just below the horizon, usually about fifteen minutes before sunrise or fifteen minutes after sunset. In those precious moments, the sun illuminates the sky, reflects the light back down to the ground, and creates a soft blue atmosphere. With limited time to shoot, you’ll need to come prepared with a plan.
Choose your time and arrive early
I personally prefer to shoot in the morning for Blue Hour. That does, however, mean waking up early. If you plan to shoot before sunrise, don’t wait long to get your shot before the sky becomes too bright; the same goes for shooting after sunset in the case of the sky becoming too dark. Regardless of morning or evening Blue Hour, always arrive at your location ninety minutes before the sun is below the horizon. This will give you enough time to find a spot and set up your camera or subjects. Just make sure to bring or wear something warm!
To aid in keeping your plan on schedule, consider using Photo Pills, an app that shows you when and where the sun will rise or set. Another app I use is the native weather app on my iPhone to see what the weather will be like the week of my shoot. These apps together will keep your shoot from being derailed at the last minute.
Gather your gear
Let’s talk gear! First of all, if you don’t have a camera, that’s totally okay. You can just use your phone. As long as you arrive on time for Blue Hour, you should be able to take some amazing photos. In most cases, I like using the wide-angle lens on my phone. If you plan to take portraits, then you should definitely use portrait mode. However, if you don’t have those features on your phone, a standard camera should do just fine. The most important thing is the Blue Hour lighting, so make sure to arrive on time!
As much as I love taking photos on my phone, I do prefer using my mirrorless camera. I use a Sony Alpha 7S III, but most mid-range cameras should be able to capture amazing photos at Blue Hour. Since you’ll be shooting in low light conditions, it’s a good idea to bring a fast lens that goes down to at least f/2.8. If you’re still unsure what lens to bring, I recommend using a standard zoom lens—I personally use the Sony 24-70mm G Master lens. Standard zoom lenses are versatile as they cover the classic focal lengths from a decently wide shot to a telephoto shot, and you don’t have to spend valuable time changing out different lenses.
Don’t forget to pack a sturdy tripod, especially if you plan to shoot at slow shutter speeds. I am a fan of the MeFOTO RoadTrip Travel Tripod because it’s sturdy, easy to transport, and affordable.
So, how do you photograph at Blue Hour? Let’s look at the camera settings. If you’re using a phone, there’s really not much to change. The default settings usually do a great job capturing exceptional photos. However, if your phone has the ability to shoot in RAW, do it! Shooting in RAW just allows you to tweak your photos when you edit them. If your phone can display a grid, I would recommend using it as a grid will help align your composition with the horizon. Lastly, make sure you don’t overexpose your image. The default settings on most phones should be fine, but sometimes phones like to overexpose. If that happens, just use your exposure slider to control this.
If you’re using a mirrorless or DSLR camera, you definitely should shoot in RAW because it allows you to adjust your photos later. And don’t be afraid to shoot in auto white balance. You’re shooting RAW, so you can always adjust the color temperature later.
Next, you want to take your photos at an aperture of f/2.8 or lower. Shooting at a low aperture prevents you from having to use a high ISO, which may add unwanted noise to your photo. With that said, make sure you constantly check your exposure as the sun crosses the horizon. The best way to do this is to look at your histogram and make sure your data is mostly in the center, and a little bit towards the right. As for shutter speed, that’s all going to depend on what you’re capturing. For example, if you plan on photographing a lake as the subject, it might be a good idea to use a low shutter speed to allow the movement of the water to create a glossy effect.
Make your photos stand out
Now that we have our camera settings dialed in, let’s talk about ways to make our photos stand out. Since Blue Hour provides a blue hue in the sky, adding a warm light source like a headlamp or a campfire can spruce up your photo with contrasting color temperatures. Make your photo’s composition look epic and dramatic by using different focal lengths to achieve different looks. Shooting with wide-angle lenses will make your photos pop—which is especially true if you have mountains in the background. Prime lenses are another favorite of mine as they make beautiful portraits with the blue hue sky. Whichever lens you choose, do your best, be creative with the angles and background, and always try to tell a story.
Now that you’ve got a plan, go have fun shooting at Blue Hour. It may be challenging to get the details right at first, but I have a suspicion you might enjoy it more than you think—even more than Golden Hour.