Improve Your Blue Hour Photography

If you’re a photography enthusiast, you have most likely heard the phrase “Blue Hour” before- but what does it actually mean?

Also called Magic Hour or Golden Hour, this fleeting mid-sunset, pre-darkness time of day offers photographers some very special lighting and compositional opportunities. But how can you best take advantage? Below you’ll find some simple tips for improving your Blue Hour photos.

If you’re a photography enthusiast, we’re almost positive you’ve heard of the infamous golden hour. A compositionally magical time of day, this key block of time is best known for offering artists some of the most flattering possible natural light to work with in developing stunning sunset photography. For those who want to make the most of Mother Nature’s golden hour opportunity, here are some of the best ways to take advantage:

  1. Time it Right- When should you be ready to shoot? According to experts, the golden hours happen during the first hour right before the sun rises and during the last hour of light right before it sets. At these precise times, the sun is closer to your subject because it’s going through more of earth’s atmosphere. Because of this key positioning, it will shed a stunning, soft, diffused light on your shot. Predicting these exact times can be tricky, especially depending on where you’re located. Lucky for you, this NYIP grad developed a Smartphone app for photographers that will do the calculating for you.
  2. Perfect your Lighting- Depending on the look you’re trying to achieve, there are different ways you should adjust accordingly to take advantage of the golden hour glow. If the subject you’re shooting is facing the sun head-on, golden hour lighting will give your shot a naturally warm feel (that you can further enhance if you’d like via post-processing). To backlight your images, the sun will be behind your subject instead. If this is the case, your most important adjustment should be to your exposure, to make sure you’re capturing the correct tones of your subject.
  3. Get creative- If you want to create a halo look around your subject, either place the sun behind your subject or make sure the background is dark. It can also be helpful to try a lower camera angle if you’re looking to achieve this.

Firstly, timing is everything when it comes to outdoor photography, and couldn’t be more true for Blue Hour shoots. Many photographers find the brief, post-sunset time of day to be the ideal Blue Hour timing, but you can actually catch similar lighting and hue conditions right before a morning sunrise. On average, these unique Blue Hour lighting windows last about 20 to 40 minutes, so you have to plan accordingly and work diligently in order to capitalize.

Pinpointing these cursory times can be a challenge- but lucky for us, this awesome NYIP graduate developed a Smartphone app for photographers that will actually do the calculating for you.

Once you’ve got your timing planned out, it’s time to get technical. One of the more convenient aspects of blue hour photography is that it actually gives you a great deal of flexibility when it comes to what settings you choose.

These settings will mostly depend on the type of scenery you’re trying to capture. For example, if you’re photographing a cityscape you likely want to to keep both the foreground and background sharp and well-lit. That means the f-stop depth of field setting is your most crucial adjustment. Try starting with something around f8 and adjust accordingly as you check out the results (here’s a perfect example, shot by NYIP student Anil Kumar).

Finally, post-production can be an important part of the Blue Hour photography process as well. Adjusting a number of elements- boosting contrast, playing with saturation, or even retouching can really help enhance the final look of a landscape shot like this.