Blue Hour Photography: A Beginner’s Guide

Curated Article from Coles Class Room.

Photographers like to talk about golden hour photography and the beautiful, glowy light they find right before sunset or after sunrise.  Golden hour is amazing.  But for my money, you can’t beat blue hour photography for some peaceful, serene images.  Don’t be so hasty packing up your gear after the sun has set.  Stay a little while to enjoy the blue hour!  

Exactly what is blue hour photography and how do you shoot it?  Follow along below for our beginner’s guide on when, what and how to shoot to take advantage of this really cool period of day!

What is Blue Hour?

Blue hour is the period of morning or night when the sun is below the horizon but still casting light into the sky.  The result is a beautiful, cool sky that makes a stunning backdrop for your photography.  Blue hour skies are crisp, cool and full of gauzy shades from indigo to navy with hints of red and pink.

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When is Blue Hour?

The general rule of thumb for blue hour is up to one hour after sunset or one hour before sunrise.  Your blue hour might not last a full hour, though.  Sometimes we only get 20-40 minutes of photography of beautiful blue before the skies turn completely black at night or the sun clears the horizon in the morning.

How long the blue hour lasts and what it looks like depends on your location, season, and the weather.  The best blue hours, in my opinion, occur on nights with few clouds.

Why Should You Shoot Blue Hour?  

Shooting during blue hour has several advantages.  First, blue hour can add more visual interest to your images.  The blue hue of the sky is a more appealing backdrop than a completely black sky, and is a great contrast to electric lights.

Also, blue hour photography helps add creativity to your photo by allowing you to convey motion.  Because there is less ambient light, you can use a lower shutter speed like 1/60, 1/10, 5, or even 30 seconds.  A slow shutter speed lets you convey motion by smoothing out water, creating light trails, or blurring clouds.  Also, you aren’t fighting mid-day or late evening sun.  So blue hour gives you more flexibility when it comes to adjusting shutter speed, aperture, and ISO in dim light.

What to Photograph During Blue Hour Photography

Blue hour is a popular time to photograph lots of different types of images, from portraits to carnivals.  Try shooting any of these images as blue hour photography subjects:

  • Cityscapes
  • Travel images like busy, winding roads or freeways
  • Landscapes like beaches, bridges, wharves, or marinas
  • Fairs, circuses, or carnivals
  • Portraits with suitable ambient light or off-camera flash
  • Moon photography

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What Equipment Do You Need for Blue Hour Photos?

To capture your own blue hour photo, make sure you’re ready with the following gear:

  • DSLR or mirrorless camera that shoots in manual mode and RAW.  Your camera should also be capable of shooting in bulb mode to create long exposures.
  • Lenses that matches your intended composition.  A wide-angle lens, such as an 18mm or 24mm, is a great choice for cityscapes and landscapes.
  • Tripod (to stabilize your camera)
  • Flashlight (to adjust settings in the dark)
  • Stopwatch or intervalometer (for a time-lapse photo)
  • Remote shutter release (cable or wireless)
  • Extra batteries and warm clothes if you’re shooting in cold temperatures

How to Capture the Blue Hour

Blue hour photography isn’t a hard concept to master, but it does take some planning and forethought to get it right.  Here are my best tips!

  1. Plan your blue hour photography shoot ahead of time.  Scout out possible locations in the day and know when blue hour will occur for your location.  An app such as PhotoTime or Photopills can help!  Look for locations that have artificial light for interest but aren’t overwhelmed with light pollution.  Too much light in the background dilutes your skies.  You’ll get a sky that’s orange or pink instead of that tranquil deep, dark blue.
  2. Pack your gear ahead of time.  Make sure you have everything you need for a blue hour shoot before you leave the house. You don’t want to find the perfect location and have beautiful weather only to realize you’ve left your tripod at home.
  3. Arrive early to set up your equipment.  Allow plenty of time to set up your tripod, frame your shot, and dial in focus and settings.  I always plan to arrive at least 30 minutes prior to sunset or 90 minutes before sunrise.  The best blue hues can fade quickly, so you want to be ready to make the most of your opportunity.
  4. Choose your settings based on your goals for the photo.  Slower shutter speeds help create light trails or smooth out water or clouds.  Wider apertures such as f/2.8 or f/1.8 can create beautiful bokeh orbs.  Narrower apertures turn points of light into sun stars.  Prioritize your settings based on what’s most important in your image.
  5. Be patient!  Don’t get in a hurry to start snapping pictures too early!  You want to wait for the moment when the sun has sunk below the horizon at night.  For morning blue hour, you’ll want to wait for the moment when the light turns from black to dark blue.  
  6. If light trails or buttery water/clouds are your goals, shoot in shutter priority mode.  That way the camera will choose ISO and aperture for you, allowing you to focus solely on shutter speed, composition, and timing.
  7. Turn off auto white balance.  The camera gets fooled by the blues and tries to neutralize them, which kind of defeats the point of shooting gorgeous blue skies!  I prefer to use Kelvin instead.  Start in the 6500K range and adjust as needed.
  8. Use a shutter release cable or remote to fire the shutter.  This will make sure you aren’t jiggling the camera and creating blur in your images when you manually press the trigger. If you don’t have a remote or cable, you can also use the timer function of your camera. This lets the camera settle first before firing.
  9. If you’re still getting blur even if using a tripod and remote, try shooting in live view or locking up your mirror.  Occasionally the minor act of your mirror flipping up to expose your sensor is enough to introduce blur into your image.  But if you shoot in live view or adjust your setting to lock the mirror in the up position, the mirror stays in place and helps eliminate shake.  
  10. Remember your other composition rules!  Use the rule-of-thirds where appropriate.  Look for leading lines to accentuate your subject.  Shoot from different angles and perspectives.
  11. Don’t be afraid to experiment!  Try different combinations of settings to give your images a slightly different look and find what YOU like best.  For example, I usually keep my ISO between 200 and 400.  But you might find you really prefer the added grain of ISO 1000 better.  Take multiple exposures with different settings and pick your favorites.  Soon you’ll find your perfect blue hour setting combo!

Post-Processing and Editing Blue Hour Images

How you process your images will vary according to your personal style.  I always shoot in RAW so I have the most flexibility in post-production.  My style is bold and colorful, so I usually add some vibrance, saturation, and contrast to my images from the hour blue.  Split toning helps enhance the color of the sky while keeping natural skin tones. Split toning also ensures you don’t wind up with all blue photos…remember it’s the contrast between blue and the other colors in the scene that add visual interest.  Finally, adjusting the luminosity may give your photo the pop it needs!  Try editing in your typical style first, then tweaking your blue hour images to find a style you best!

Conclusion

Don’t be such a slave to the golden hour that you miss photographing in the blue hour.  It really can be every bit as magical as golden hour and lends a certain tranquil and calm spirit to your photo.  You’ll love the tones and ethereal quality for landscapes, cityscapes and more!

Article written and copied from Coles Classroom.

5 Steps to Take Now So You Can Thrive in the Post Coronavirus World

Down Time

Article Written by; Barry Davret FollowMar 25 · 5 min read

You have plenty of alone time. Don’t waste it.

Pandemics always end. At some point, this will pass. We’ll find a way to defeat the coronavirus. We just don’t know when. But that’s not the question that troubles me. What I want to know are the answers to these questions:

Will my friends and loved ones still be here? Will I still be here? What will become of us? Will I still have a job or business?

Don’t tell me you aren’t thinking that too, or at least similar thoughts more appropriate to your situation. If you’re not careful, you can spend hours on end contemplating the worst-case-scenarios. That kind of thinking will destroy your sanity.

Nobody can predict how this will all end, but I’m planning on thriving in the post coronavirus world, and I’ve already started taking steps to make it happen.

When you shut off the endless cycle of crisis, you’re left with a lot of free time. How you choose to fill that time today will impact your future outcomes. So, where do you start?

These five steps will help you focus on doing work that matters.


1. The Life Design Questions

In the early 2000s, I attended a string of personal development seminars. My intoxication with self-help schemes fizzled out, but one of those events left a lasting impact. The leader of this seminar had us focus on three questions. The answers gave us clarity on what we wanted and enabled us to design a life we desired.

Who do you want to become?

What kind of person do you aspire to be? What characteristics do you want other people to ascribe to you?

What do you want to become?

What kind of professional life do you desire? Describe it in detail.

What is the change you need to make?

Describe the person you are now and what you do. What changes do you need to make to achieve the vision of your future self?

This exercise always provided me interesting insights, but it never resulted in any changes to my life. But years later, I found this to be a useful tool when used as a precursor to the next step.


2. Create Your Day in the Life

Several years ago, I listened to a Tim Ferris podcast, where he interviewed Debbie Millman. She described a life-changing exercise that I’ve been following for the last two years. Here’s how it works.

Picture yourself five years from now, long after the crisis ends. Write out in essay format, a day in your life from the moment you get out of bed until you fall asleep.

Think about all of your dreams and imagine that you have already achieved them (use results from the first step). Imagine what your life would be like if you pursued your goals without fear and delay. Be specific about what you do with your day, both professionally and personally. Write about your career, family life, health, and hobbies. Your essay should run about 3,000–5,000 words.

For more details, I suggest you listen to the segment here at 1:31:00 into the podcast. I’ve been focusing on this the last week, and whenever I feel that twinge of angst, I pull out my essay and read it. It has a remarkably calming and motivating effect.


3. List the Actions You Must Take to Create That Life

Once you’ve put your dream life on paper, list out the high-level activities you must take to achieve those goals. Creating a plan can overwhelm you, so don’t get hung up on intricate details. List out the steps as you think of them. There will be a significant amount of gaps, but you’ll address those in the next step.

Let’s suppose in three years you will have published a novel. Your high-level actions would be:

  1. Write the first draft.
  2. Get it reviewed by a developmental editor.
  3. Rewrite.
  4. Final edit.
  5. Book design.
  6. Publish.

Yes, there are dozens of steps in between. You may need to acquire specific skills, get recommendations, research, and network. But a high-level outline like this gets you excited, focuses your mind, and prepares you to dig into the details.


4. Research, but Not Too Much

There’s nothing like losing yourself in research to take your mind off the craziness of the outside world. It takes more than a few hopeful ideas to achieve a dream. You need to know what steps to take and then act on them.

But don’t bury yourself in research forever. I’ve found that some folks use it as an excuse to avoid doing work or taking risks.

Research other people who have achieved similar goals to yours and find out what they did, and then move on. You can always come back to do more if you need it.

When you finish, go back to your list from the previous step and fill in some of the blanks.


5. Make it Happen

Dreaming and planning are necessary steps, but they mean nothing without taking action. Schedule time in your day to work on your dream. Sure, you knew that already. But what if you’re struggling with following through? It’s almost impossible to focus in this environment.

By scheduling time and limiting your intake of social media and news, you’ll find it easier to focus. If the stress still gets to you, I’ve found that these steps help:

  • Read your day in the life essay. It’ll transport your mind to a future state.
  • Listen to music or sounds that calm you. I listen to Brain.fm, but it’s subscription-based. If you want something free, create a playlist. I find that listening to music that reminds me of childhood brings back memories of happier times, and crowds out today’s madness.

Living in an era of uncertainty and fear may get the better of us at moments. But focusing on your dream now will not only distract you from the fear and anxiety but will set you up for a more fruitful post corona world.

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12 Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before You Release Your Shutter

In my personal quest to improve my digital photography skills, I am constantly seeking guidance.

Recently I ran across what I consider to be a very important guide.

Twelve very important questions I think all photographers should ask themselves before each shot.  Considering these questions can and will improve your photography skills.

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Utilizing these questions has greatly improved my effort to produce impressive imagery.  You should consider:

  1. The Purpose 
  2. The Story You Wish To Tell
  3. The Position You Should Take
  4. Orientation
  5. Background
  6. Is the composition Straight? 
  7. Framing
  8. Light
  9. Focal Point
  10. Eye Flow
  11. Movement Within The Frame
  12. Color/Contrast

Commit To Memory

Excited about the expected outcome from my next photo adventure, I immediately committed them to memory in the order given.  

Eager to see the outcome from my newly acquired knowledge, I began using them, in the exact order given.

So, after trying this for a while, I realized that I was struggling to get through the process.  At first, I could not understand why the process was so difficult for me.  Suddenly, I realized that the order in which the questions were given did not fit my slowly developing style.  Causing, my shooting process to become slow and difficult.

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Make Adjustments

Even though each question needs to be addressed, the order just didn’t match my style.  So I decided to experiment with the sequence.  

My new sequence looks like this:

  1. Purpose
  2. Story
  3. Light
  4. Position
  5. Orientation (Landscape or Portrait)
  6. Framing
  7. Focal Point 
  8. Eye Flow
  9. Background
  10. Color/Contrast
  11. Streight
  12. Movement

This is my personal sequence, and so far it has served me well.  Now, I am beginning to see a dramatic improvement in my photography.

For a final note, I must interject two thoughts.  First, I sometimes let light lead me to my story, after all, photography is all about light.  And finally, I have learned to always shoot both orientations.  You will be surprised at what you may come up with.

So, go out shoot some pics and play around with these questions, find your sequence and see if it improves your skills. 

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