7 tips for photographing in the blue hour
Tips & Tricks
The blue hour is an ideal time of day to capture great shots. The natural residual light, together with the artificial light from street and building lighting, gives the photo a special charm. The yellow or reddish residual light of the sun or street lighting and the blue of twilight are classic complementary colors. If complementary colors are used in photography in a targeted manner, more coherent and interesting images are immediately created.
Lake Bled, Slovenia
Nikon D850, 2-70mm f/2.8, 30s, f/8, ISO 100
Old Town Zug, Switzerland
Fujifilm GFX 50S, 32-64mm f/4, 4s, f/16, ISO 160
The blue hour begins just before sunrise or after sunset and usually lasts 30 – 45 minutes in our latitudes. There are various apps and websites that help you find the exact times for the blue hour at your desired photo location. For example, we highly recommend the apps PhotoPills and TPE.
Be sure to check the weather. The blue hour is most beautiful with a clear sky or with few clouds. But even with overcast skies, you can still take pictures in the blue hour. But if the cloud cover is too dense and it is raining heavily, then it is not really worth of going outside.
Screenshots app Photo Pills: the app helps in the optimal preparation for photographing in the blue hour.
The right equipment
When photographing during the blue hour, longer exposure times are necessary. In order to take sharp pictures, you need a tripod and you should use a camera with manual settings.
Furthermore, it is worthwhile to use a remote shutter release, so that you can release the shutter without touching the camera. If you don’t have one at hand, the self-timer of your camera will help you. Just set it to 2 seconds’ delay.
Short summary – this is what you need
- Single-lens reflex or system camera with manual setting options
- Lenses that cover, for example, the focal lengths between 14 – 70 mm
- Sturdy tripod
- Remote shutter release
- Headlamp or small flashlight
Fujifilm GFX 50S, 32–64mm f/4, 6.5s, f/8, ISO 100
The camera settings: with 7 steps to the perfect photo
1. Image composition
Be sure to get there in time and find a great composition. The blue hour lasts only a short time and you should be ready when it starts.
2. Pre-settings on the camera
M mode: Work with the manual mode: In the blue hour, the light changes constantly and you can adjust the shutter speed continuously.
Image stabilizer: Turn off the image stabilizer on your lens. Since you are shooting with a tripod, you don’t need it.
Mirror lock-up: Activate the mirror lock-up on an SLR camera. This also helps to get a blur-free image.
ISO: Use an ISO value as low as possible to prevent unwanted noise. It is best to start with ISO 100.
3. Switch off autofocus and focus manually
Focusing in twilight can be challenging. Our tip: Set your lens to infinity and use the live view function of your camera. Zoom in and find an object that is easy to focus on: for example, the clock face of a church steeple, nameplates on buildings, or lights. By turning the focus ring, you can now adjust the sharpness manually.
4. Set aperture
Set the desired aperture. For blue hour shots, it’s best to choose an aperture between f11 and f16. The smaller the aperture, the more star-like the highlights will shine.
5. Select suitable exposure time
Now set the necessary shutter speed using the exposure scale in the viewfinder or on the display. Or first measure the required shutter speed for your selected aperture in the aperture priority mode (A / Av). Then set the corresponding time in manual mode.
6. White balance
If you shoot in RAW, it is best to use the automatic white balance, since this can be easily adjusted in RAW image processing.
7. Trigger and check histogram
After you have set everything correctly, you can release the camera. Then check the histogram to see if the exposure is correct. When taking pictures in the blue hour, try to expose as far to the right as possible. This will minimize noise in the shadows and depths.
Nikon D850, 24-70mm f/2.8, 15s, f/13, ISO 100
Checklist: The camera settings briefly
- Choose image composition
- Set M – mode
- Turn off image stabilizer
- Switch off autofocus and focus manually
- Activate mirror lock-up
- ISO value as low as possible
- Set aperture
- Select suitable exposure time
- Automatic white balance
- Check histogram
Early morning in Ljubjlana, Slovenia
Fujifilm GFX 50S, 23mm f4, 15s, f/16, ISO 100
Blue hour in Hamnoy on the Lofoten Islands
Fujifilm GFX 50S, 23mm f/4, 480s, f/8, ISO 125