Blue Hour, Golden Hour’s lesser-known cousin, may not get all the accolades, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a gorgeous time of day to get beautiful landscape shots. Blue Hour, which occurs before sunrise and after sunset, has deep, rich, bluish light that gives landscapes all sorts of moody goodness without the harsh shadows and contrast that are often found in daytime lighting situations. What’s more, the prevalence of blue tones makes any oranges, pinks, purples, and yellows in the sky pop that much more.
Here are a few tips for maximizing your time during Blue Hour to get the best possible landscape photos.
Shoot in Shutter Priority Mode
Because of the relative lack of light available during Blue Hour, you’ll need to extend your shutter speed to get enough light for a well-exposed image. Typically, speeds of 1-5 seconds will suffice, though this will take some experimentation on your part to determine the precise shutter speed needed for your particular landscape.
Since there’s an emphasis on the shutter speed, using shutter priority mode makes sense. Doing so allows you to select the shutter speed you want and the camera will adjust the aperture accordingly. If you’re new to Blue Hour Photography, aperture priority will make things a bit easier as you’ll only need to worry about one exposure setting. However, as you gain experience shooting landscapes at this time of day, shooting in manual mode will likely be the best bet.
Keep Things Stable
It goes without saying that if you’re using shutter speeds that are seconds long that you’ll need to ensure that your camera is nice and stable to avoid camera shake. Use a tripod, or at the very least, a beanbag, tree stump, or rock, that will give your camera a solid base. Invest in a remote shutter release if you haven’t already, so you can trigger the shutter without actually touching the camera, or use your camera’s built-in timer so any vibrations from you pressing the shutter have time to dissipate before the shutter fires.
If you use a tripod be sure the ground on which it’s standing can support the weight of the camera. For example, if shooting a beach scene like the one above, push the legs of the tripod into the sand so it doesn’t sink as the shutter is firing. If the tripod has a center hook, hang your camera bag or backpack from it to weigh the tripod down, furthering its stability.
Add Visual Interest
Because blue hour occurs in the wee hours of the morning and the waning moments of light at the end of the day, the scene you’re photographing will be on the dark side. Granted, you can adjust your exposure settings to brighten the image, but you’ll want to be careful not to overdo it lest the image takes on a fake and processed look. Besides, the dark blue tones prevalent during Blue Hour are a wonderful base upon which to highlight your subject and supporting elements.
One trick to maximize the look of Blue Hour is to incorporate strong areas of visual interest. Buildings, bridges, and lights immediately come to mind as ideal subject matter because they add shape and dimension to a relatively dark scene, while lights add some brightness and fine detail. This concept is demonstrated in the image above - the cooling towers are lit nicely from below, and their reflection in the pond creates a visually engaging dynamic in the image. This is all done while retaining the integrity of the darkness of the Blue Hour lighting.
If you want to try a new look for your landscape photos, simply head out very early before sunrise or hang out after the sun has set, look for that gorgeous, deep, Blue Hour lighting. Give your camera a stable base, try shutter priority mode, and be sure to include lots of visual interest in the shot. Do that, and you might just get stunning images like those shown above!