When we begin our photographic journey we all learn about the best time of day to capture the most beautiful images. We specifically learn that the golden hour, a period just after sunrise and the hour just before the sunsets. This is that magical hour that produces the best light to capture your amazing images. Although this is certainly true, there is another time of day that is excellent for specifically shooting Cityscapes and that is the blue hour.
Although not specifically an hour, the blue hour occurs about 30 to 40 minutes before sunrise and about 30 to 40 minutes after sunset and this gives the sky a rich blue colour, which is ideal for capturing cityscapes. Always plan your shoot to avoid disappointment as the window of opportunity to capture the images is short. Use apps like Photopills, the photographers Elphemris, weather and maps, which will provide you with all the information you need to capture that image.
When capturing a blue hour image the amount of light that is available is fairly limited so I am often using slower shutter speeds to gather more light. Some of the gear I use to achieve this is apart from the camera and a wide-angle lens is a sturdy tripod, this holds the camera still and often with the slower shutter speeds it is very difficult to handhold the camera steady to capture the image, without it having camera shake. A remote release, if you want to avoid camera shake when pressing the shutter button, however, you can also use a 2 or 10-second timer to avoid this.
For any images over a 30-second exposure (this is usually in Bulb Mode where you can hold the shutter open for long periods of time), it is advisable to have a remote release to start and stop your exposure times, especially with the long exposure photography. I also sometimes use a polariser, this helps to make those blues pop and add a bit of clarity to the overall image, however, a polariser is not always necessary.
The settings that I normally use are smaller apertures as you want most things in focus in your image so anywhere from f8 upto f16. The ISO you want is as low as possible to avoid noise in the shadows and I start at an ISO of 100, although with most modern cameras the ISO can be pushed a bit more to gather a bit more light. The shutter speed will depend on the type of image you want to capture from a second up to 2 or 3 minutes (especially if there is water in the image). A good starting point is to use your in-camera meter to give you a rough estimate to see if your image is over or underexposed.
The above image is an image taken just before sunrise and you can see in the distance that the sun is about to rise in the horizon. The advantage of shooting in the blue hour before sunrise is that you do not have all the hustle and bustle of city life around the locations that you want to capture. The image below also illustrates an often busy tourist spot in the city is totally empty and this is a great time to capture those cityscapes without having hundreds of tourists in your image and saves you time in post-processing. Now one of the disadvantages of shooting before sunrise is that you do not have the city lights on in some cases to illuminate the image and leaving the image a bit flat as below.
I personally prefer to shoot just after sunset to capture the city with all the lights in the buildings on as in the image below. I find this time to be more rewarding as it also gives me the opportunity to capture those warmer tones in the city lights, which gives balance to the overall image. The downside as mentioned before is that you have to compose the image without getting the crowds in the images.
There are two examples of images below, the first captured just after sunset in the blue hour and the second image after blue hour, and you can see the difference between the images. Although they are both aesthetically nice to look at both have a different feel to them.
Here is another couple of examples where in the first image the colours really pop with the blue sky but after the blue hour the moon has come up and the image has lost its vibrancy. Again although the images both look pleasing the first image has certainly more pop.
You can also try other types of photography in the blue hour such as creating light trails. This is a popular technic were you can catch the moving lights of traffic causing the lights to streak in the image, like the image below. How long the lights streak in the image depends on your shutter speed and a lot of it trail and error to capture the right type of motion in the image.
Here are a few more examples of blue hour photography:
Blue hour photography is great fun and allows you to be creative in your photography. It allows you to experiment with long exposures to capture motion and also capture the bright city lights. Plan your shoots as you have a short period of time when you get to a location to set up and capture your image, especially if you are trying to capture multiple locations. Make sure you have the right gear with you, a wide-angle lens, tripod, remote shutter release and a small torch or headlamp. The main thing is to have fun with your photography.
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