The majority of photographers talk about the Golden Hour like it’s the most perfect time to shoot all the time, any time. Talk to the pros, the ones who know how to make their own light and to the newbies and they’ll mostly say that their favorite time to shoot has to be during the Golden Hour. There is something magical about clicking the shutter of your camera and being in complete awe at the results that you get.
Yes, that’s cool; but why don’t people stick around a little while after or a little while before? This time is called the Blue Hour–and this short period can give you some absolutely incredible images.
What is the Blue Hour?
The blue hour has very specific characteristics to it:
– It’s generally the dawn or dusk: right before the Golden Hour during sunrise and right after it during sunset.
– Unlike the Golden Hour, the Blue Hour is characterized by intense blues that glow due to the sun’s light being reflected off of the Earth. The closer you are to a body of water, the more intense the blues will be.
– The blue hour lasts for a very short amount of time. You’re lucky if it’s a half hour.
During the Blue Hour, there is no direct sunlight at all hitting your subject–which means that the light is at its softest. Direct lighting during the day usually needs some sort of diffusion like a giant cloud to come between the sun and the Earth to make the light softer. But if there is no diffusion, then the light is direct.
Lighting gurus often talk about this and label it as directional quality. The more indirect a light source is, generally the more inefficient it is and the softer it is.
The Blue Hour won’t give you all the light that the Golden Hour will, so you’ll need to change your settings and if you want to use a flash, you’re bound to get even deeper blues in the sky if it has a fast flash duration or if you’re using high speed sync.
The Best Settings
The Golden Hour requires you to use a lower ISO setting, a fast shutter speed and often a wide aperture or a slower shutter speed and a more narrow aperture. But the Blue Hour gives you significantly less light. It’s not uncommon to shoot anywhere between ISO 400-1600 to get the other variables to a workable level in order to achieve your creative vision.
If you’re shooting landscapes, this is the time that you’re going to get some very surreal looking images.
What’s the Blue Hour Good For?
To be honest, the Blue Hour may be best for portraits and landscapes–though it would lend itself more towards landscapes. If you’re shooting cityscapes, this is a beautiful time to do long exposures and watch as the car headlights zip past into the image. But if you’re shooting a seascape, then this is the exact moment that you’ve been waiting for. It’s when the water will be at its dreamiest and the color of the blue atmosphere will pop even more in the image that you’re trying to create. Because of that, there will be far less color contrast.
For portrait shooters, we recommend doing something really creative with lighting like using street lamps or candles. In fact, bringing candles can give just enough color contrast to the already blue atmosphere that can help bring out skin tones very well.