How to Shoot Amazing Images During Blue Hour

Landscape and nature photographers are well aware that sunrise and sunset are the best times to capture stunning light in their photographs. Blue hour is a great time to capture images, but very few photographers stay around.

When the sun is lower than the horizon, blue hour happens just after sunset. It is still not bright enough to see the surroundings. These are the times when you can see a few stars in the sky just before darkness sets in or the sun rises.

Because the light is evenly distributed across the landscape, this time of night or morning is the best time to photograph. The sun’s harsh light is not an issue. You can still get enough light to create a long exposure without having to deal with the grain of night photography.

In The Field

How can we capture stunning images during blue hours? You must be there at the right time. My favorite time to shoot is 45 minutes after sunset. You can also shoot similar results up to 45 minutes before sunrise. This is a bit more difficult for me because you must find your composition in darkness. Usually, I arrive at sunset to find my composition and then wait for the sun down.

A tripod is required for this technique. We’ll be using long exposures to expose darker areas. As long as your shutter speed can be adjusted up to 30 seconds, any camera or lens can do the job. Full manual mode is what I recommend. Because you can adjust ISO, aperture, shutter speed and other settings individually, this is a great option. Automatic modes are often difficult to adjust after dark.

When the time is right, dial in your ISO and aperture. Every scene is different, but these are the settings I use most often.

  • ISO 1600
  • f/4
  • 25 second shutter speed

Once you have dialed them in, take some photos to see what they look like. Check that your camera is focused. You will usually need manual focus because the autofocus may not work in low light. You should not exaggerate the highlights. You should not make the entire RAW image completely white. The sky should be bright but not completely white. You want the foreground to appear dark, but make sure you take RAW images to be able to adjust it in post-processing.

If your image isn’t properly exposed (too dark or too bright), increase or decrease the ISO until you get the right exposure.

on the Computer

After you return home, edit your images. Then load them into any post-processing software that you prefer. The highlight should be reduced. To increase your image’s dynamic range, you will want to increase the number of shadows. You can also adjust the white balance. After dark, your camera might not be able to balance the temperature of the image properly. My personal preference is for the white balance to work when the sky’s blue. However, the objects in my background are more neutral.

Because it is so easy to capture blue hour images, it’s a great time to take them! It’s worth spending an extra hour outdoors if you are already out photographing sunsets. It’s possible with almost any DSLR or mirrorless camera. It works best to have clear nights, but you can also try blue hour photography if there are interesting clouds. Don’t forget your flashlight!