Many photographers opt for natural lighting when they shoot outdoors. While it’s a great idea to get a portable lighting kit, limitations of working with natural light give you a better understanding of exposure and challenge you in your journey with photography. One of the most interesting times of the day to experiment with natural lighting and receive beautiful shots is the blue hour. The sky has a deep blue color but there is still some light to try to take a picture without an external flash and a diffuser.
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What is the blue hour?
The blue hour happens around 30 minutes before the sunrise and after the sunset. In the morning, it is the time before the golden hour; in the evening, the blue hour takes place right after the golden hour.
During the blue hour, light is constantly changing. At the same time, it is way softer and more delicate than during the day or even the sunset itself. This makes the blue hour a great opportunity for a photographer of any level to take magical pictures with deep and varying hues.
How to take beautiful photos during the blue hour
The blue hour might seem hard to a beginner photographer as the lighting conditions are quite challenging. However, with proper understanding of blue hour photography and some practice, you can take photos you will be proud of.
1. Prepare for your photoshoot
When you rely on certain lighting conditions, it’s a good idea to prepare everything you need for a photo shoot in advance. Sure, you can see the blue hour when you look out of the window, but you might miss the right time since the blue hour doesn’t last for so long. You should research the time when the sunrise or sunset happens in your area at the specific season and be ready to go to your chosen location in advance to have enough time to prepare your gear. The Blue Hour website is an easy way to check out when it will happen in your city or region.
2. Get your settings right
During the blue hour, you need to adjust your camera settings carefully due to limited lighting conditions. The best solution is to use manual mode to get the exposure right. When there is not enough light, you need to opt for longer shutter speeds – several seconds long. Shooting moving objects with a slow shutter speed results in motion blur. If you want to avoid it, you will have to adjust aperture and ISO settings, making your f-number smaller for a wider open aperture or choosing a higher ISO.
It might be hard for a beginner photographer to get each setting right, so use the shutter priority mode if you don’t feel confident enough yet. This way, you can choose the shutter speed, and your camera will set the aperture and ISO automatically.
3. Always use a tripod
A tripod is a must for blue hour photography and night photography in general. Very often, you will shoot with a slow shutter speed, and you can’t hold your camera steady even with a second-long shutter speed. To receive crystal clear and sharp images, you need to fixate your camera, and the best solution is to invest into a tripod.
4. Shoot in RAW
It’s okay to shoot in JPEG if you are a beginner photographer, photography is your hobby, or you don’t edit images after a photo shoot. However, for those who are serious about photography, the best solution is to shoot in RAW.
JPEG is basically compressed RAW format, and files in RAW contain more data for post-processing. That’s important for blue hour photography as you might want to edit your photos afterward to have more control of the final outcome, especially if you didn’t get the perfect exposure. Don’t forget that RAW files are of higher quality than JPEG files, which makes them way heavier. Make sure you have enough space in your camera or take a spare memory card with you in case your photo shoot is going to be long.
5. Look for light sources
You can shoot a variety of photography genres during the blue hour, including landscape and portraiture. Nevertheless, the contrast between urban areas and nature in the dark blue colors can make your images more powerful and visually appealing, which is why many architecture photographers shoot cities in the blue hour. What’s more, buildings, traffic lights, and street lights in the background can serve as an extra source of light in dim lighting conditions. There is also a contrast between cold hues of the sky and warm lights within the city, which might make your images even more intriguing.
6. Include water in your shots
To make your blue hour photography more powerful and dramatic, you should search for ways to make your compositions more intriguing. A great way is to shoot near some water to take photos with reflections. When you shoot landscapes during the blue hour, they might be quite typical or boring, but if you add details on your foreground, you can easily hold the attention of your viewers for longer. Try to find a lake or a pond near some mountains or a forest and search for a point where you can capture the reflections. The blue sky reflected in water will make your shots really eye-catching.
7. Take some cozy portraits with campfire
As mentioned above, warm lights create a great contrast when you shoot during the blue hour. The blue hour is the perfect time to take some cozy images in natural surroundings. If you shoot portraiture, head to mountains or forest with your models and take some photos of them near a campfire. Campfires have a romantic aura and are usually associated with comfort and summer adventures, so you can use this to your advantage when you plan a photoshoot.
Bonus tip: Understand the golden hour to extend your photoshoots
The golden hour lasts for around an hour after the sunrise and before the sunset. Unlike with blue hour photography when you capture cold and moody light with your pictures, shooting during the golden hour can help you take warm and glowing photos.
When you shoot the blue hour in the morning, the golden hour happens just afterward, so it’s a good idea to stay outdoors a little longer to capture sunset and the golden hour afterward. In the evening, come to your location earlier to shoot the golden hour before the blue hour. You can compare the results once you are home and see what you enjoy the most.
Understanding how to work with light is essential for photographers. Even a photographer with experience might face some problems trying to capture complicated hues and shadows that the blue hour brings to locations, especially if they are used to working with artificial light. However, limitations and challenges can make you a better professional. Blue hour photography can become the best part of your portfolio, so you should definitely give it a try.
Featured image: surasak | Depositphotos
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