A guide to blue hour photography

If you’ve read our beginner’s guide to astrophotography, chances are you already have the basic knowledge to take pictures after the sun goes down and use your camera in manual mode. But why limit yourself to those nights when the conditions are favorable for celestial shooting? There are many other uses for your new skills and many unique situations to capture. One in particular has a certain unique magic: the blue hour.

What is the blue hour?

The so-called “blue hour” is the period of time just after sunset, around dusk, when the sky takes on hues of ink, indigo, and before it turns impenetrable black. The term “time” is a bit abusive because it depends on the latitude of the Earth you are in and how long it is. Closer to the equator there is very little blue between sunset and darkness while towards the poles and during their respective summer periods the hour can seem endless. There is also another blue hour just before dawn. It’s the perfect light for capturing the movement and energy of cityscapes when buildings are illuminated, as well as seascapes and moonlit landforms.

Photographer's Guide to the Blue Hour: Image of Oslo at Dusk

Oslo, Norway (Image credit: Diana Jarvis)

Which camera to use for the blue hour

Most DSLR or mirrorless cameras are suitable for taking decent nighttime images. While those with higher ISO capacities will give you more flexibility and range in very dark situations, during blue hour it is possible to combine a lower ISO with a long exposure to capture at night with great effect. .

What lenses to use for the blue hour

For cityscapes and landscapes, a wide or super wide angle lens will allow you to get more of the scene in your shot. By balancing ISO with exposure time, you don’t necessarily have to worry about wide aperture capabilities. To ensure sharpness throughout the shot, a fixed focal length lens between 16mm and 50mm is ideal, but zooms that cover these ranges will also work well.

What accessories do you need?


Much of shooting at night involves long exposures, so you’ll need a tripod to keep the camera still. A heavier tripod will be more sturdy in windy conditions, but something lighter and less bulky will be easier to carry if you intend to be out all day before the blue hour shoot.

Camera pouf

Tripods, however, can be bulky and heavy to carry around, especially if you spend the whole day exploring a new location before making the most of the blueberry hues at the end of the day. An alternative to the tripod is to have a camera bean bag in your kit. While they don’t give you anything like the kind of control over composition you have with a tripod, it’s a much lighter option and will allow you to use flat surfaces around a city or a rocky outcrop. in a barren landscape with great effect.

Remote trigger

For longer exposures, any amount of oscillation can affect the resulting image. So you can help control this by using a remote shutter release, eliminating the need to touch the camera body during exposure.

Photographer's Guide to the Blue Hour: Image shows Margate, Ket at night

Margate, United Kingdom (Image credit: Diana Jarvis)

What to shoot in the blue hour

While not generally ideal for astrophotography, cities are great places to photograph during the blue hour as there is activity, colors, and an array of light types to contend with. Capturing the light trails of moving vehicles is a popular way to start photographing at night and allows you to depict the city in a way the naked eye cannot see.

In cityscapes, office and apartment buildings often glow with activity while historic buildings like castles and churches are often lit for a few hours at night. In wilder landscapes, you can try light painting with a torch on rocks and landscape features or you can coincide your shot with a full moon and use it to illuminate them. (Once the light is completely out, you can then try to photograph the moon with your camera.)

Art installations using light are becoming more and more popular and many cities now have winter light festivals during the darker months, and fireworks are another great opportunity to develop your skills. Lights reflected off water – in puddles, lakes, rivers, or in the sea – also provide a great opportunity to create abstract compositions.


At dusk, the sky is not uniformly dark; it is much darker in the opposite direction of sunset and will stay brighter where the sun has set. The Ephemeris Photo app shows you the direction of the sunset as well as the moon while the time and date are a good place to stay informed of the phases of the moon. Cloud cover impacts the color of the sky during the blue hour – city lights bounce off the clouds and give the sky a dark brown tint – so it’s also worth checking out the local forecast

What camera settings to use for blue hour

The secret to great night photography is the chemistry between ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, and knowing how and when to push and pull them to create a crisp, crisp photo.

Camera mode

Manual. You will need as much control over ISO, shutter and aperture as possible


Shooting in RAW will allow you to capture as much detail as possible and give you more leeway to cast shadows and reduce highlights in post-processing.

Photographer's Guide to the Blue Hour: Image shows Glasgow, Scotland at night

Glasgow, Scotland (Image credit: Diana Jarvis)

Shutter speed

To move light trails, the shutter will need to be open for as long as it takes for the light to move across your photo. If you’re shooting illuminated buildings at night, a longer shutter speed means you can use a smaller aperture and lower ISO, so your shot will be much sharper and less grainy.


Larger openings let in more light, which is useful if your scene has very little light like photos of the night sky. But for cityscapes where there is a multitude of light coming from streetlamps, vehicles and buildings, a smaller aperture will allow you to get more sharpness of the scene. You can also create a “starburst” effect when individual light sources pass through the lens prisms.


At the start of Blue Hour, you can set your ISO as low as 100 and use longer exposures to let in light. As darkness sets in, your ISO will need to increase to make sure that the exposure time doesn’t lead to blowing out highlights.

During the blue hour, the light changes rapidly and that, coupled with the multiple light sources in an urban environment, means that you may need to experiment and adjust your ISO, aperture, and shutter speed before capturing the scene in your home. spirit. You are now on your way to capturing the spellbinding magic of twilight.

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