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When Sunset is Disappointing – 14 Ways Blue Hour Can Save Your Images

When Sunset is Disappointing – 14 Ways Blue Hour Can Save Your Images

Recently we spoke about why shooting at the Golden Hour is so important when capturing a powerful mood in our photos (Why Is The Golden Hour So Important To Landscape Photographers?). Yet, more often than not, the Golden Hour doesn’t provide us with a stunning show. Fortunately we still have the blue hour, which can rescue an entire shoot in the absence of a sunrise/sunset. This article will talk about 14 ways blue hour can save your images.

14 Ways Blue Hour Can Save Your Images

1. If your sunset or sunrise is flat, blue hour can be a surprising bonus. Always stick around after sunset, or get there early before blur hour in the morning. For the shot below, I had a complete flat and overcast sky. I stuck around for blue hour and watched the mood go from uneventful to extremely moody.

After a grey and overcast day, the blue hour brought some welcome drama
After a grey and overcast day, the blue hour brought some welcome drama

2. Less light means long exposures. As the natural light fades, we need to extend our shutter speed more and more to compensate. We can take advantage of this. Long exposures can completely transform a scene. In landscapes this can mean beautiful cloud or water movement. In cityscapes this can also mean sweeping light trails.


3. Deepen or alter the blue. Since the sky tends to be a striking blue, it easily to make an accurate selection of it. When you’ve done that you can darken, lighten, saturate or de-saturate the blue to enhance the mood of your image. Below is an example where I deepened the richness of the blue sky, without affecting the rest of the image.

To do this I simply went opened up a Curves layer. With the mask of this layer selected, I went to Select>Color Range, and in the dialogue that appears chose Sampled Colors in the dropdown box. Then I selected the eyedropper tool and clicked on the blue sky. To make sure I had selected the full range of blues in the sky, I moved the fuzziness slider along to the right until the mask showed me the entire sky was selected. After pressing OK, I could see that the correct mask had been applied to the Curves layer. Finally I changed the Blend Mode of the Curves layer to Soft Light, which gentle increased the contrast an saturation of the blue sky.



4. Bracket correctly. Blue hour cityscapes are especially contrasting. It’s easy to come away with powerfully over exposed areas, such as street lights, that are too distracting. Immediately after you’ve bracketed, review your darkest exposure in Live View and make sure the highlights are fully exposed for. If they aren’t, lower your exposure and take a few extra images until your highlights are covered. This will ensure that you don’t have too many distracting, over exposed areas in your scene.

5. Blue hour isn’t just for cityscapes. Surprisingly few photographers publish blue hour landscape images compared to golden hour photos. Yet, blue hour landscapes can especially beautiful, with their own unique mood. For me, there is something serene and peaceful in many blue hour landscapes.

moon river mt cook at night

6. Blue and yellow make a lovely combination. when shooting blue hour cityscapes we have a very strong advantage. Yellow and blue are complementary colours. Winding, yellow street lights can be extremely appealing to a viewer. If you’ve found that your street lights are orange, or any other colour, open a Hue/Saturation layer, click on the hand in the top left hand and click on one of your street lights. This will select that colour range. Now just push the hue left or right until the street lights turn a satisfying yellow.


7. Look for unique light. Sometimes when the natural light fades, unexpected light emerges. At times this can be unwanted. At other times this can completely transform the scene. It was raining heavily in Shanghai when I shot the image below. This was about 30 minutes before sunrise, which was extremely flat and grey. Shooting at blue hour meant I captured this beautiful light glowing from the centre of the city, in the thick, damp air.

the bund sunrise

8. Awesome mood. Blue hour has a wonderful way of deepening the mood in our images, especially if there are deep, dramatic clouds. From seascapes, landscapes and cityscapes, blue hour offers us a unique mood that no other time of the day offers  – fishermen + magical french thing


9. Combine blue hour and golden hour. There’s a very short window where the blue hour gives way to golden hour, or vice-versa, and we can capture that beautiful transition. For me, this is most powerful at sunrise, when the world is just waking up. The mood contains the stillness of blue hour and the promise of a new day, as golden colours begin to appear on the horizon.


10. Blend blue hour and golden hour. Leading on from the last point, with a little bit of creative license, we can even blend the golden hour into blue hour in Photoshop. I created the video below on a way to do this easily:

Quick Photoshop Secrets 11: (Luminosity Masks) Smoothly Blend Sunsets & Blue Hour Scenes

11. Maximise your use of city lights. We’ve look at how important it is to control over exposed city lights and also how yellow street lights complement the colours of blue hour. But we can’t overlook just how important city lights are. For me, they contribute to a huge amount of the mood in a night cityscape.

While we need to exposure for them correctly, we also need to know which ones to push and emphasize. For example, in the image below, I recovered the highlights in the buildings. However, I exaggerated the light trails cutting through the image, over exposing them. I wanted to push the viewers’ eyes to this point of energy. Recovering the other highlights meant that there weren’t competing points of brightness, so the viewers’ are immediately drawn to those light trails. You can see how I created this image with Raya Pro here:

Raya Pro Tutorial - Futuristic Cityscape

12. Less dead space. Often, when shooting at night, we’re left with large, black, empty regions in our frame since the sky is so dark. For example, in this classic scene of the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, the typical black sky we see in this scene seems out of place to me. Whereas, when shot at blue hour, like in this image, the vibrant colour of the sky seems to match the scene extremely well. Blue hour gives us a beautiful colour to work with in the sky, rather than a large dark area that may (but not always) damage the mood of the image.


13. Tying multiple benefits together. We’ve spoken about long exposures, combining golden hour and blue hour and also the power of lights. This image combines all three elements. It was shot over a 30 minute period, from the beginning of blue hour/end of sunset until the beginning of true night time. Different exposures were used, each capturing beautiful moments all unique to blue hour (apart from the light which was captured at the end of blue hour/beginning of true night).


14. Fake the blue hour. Sometimes we continue shooting beyond blue hour. If we’re inclined to post-process, we can simple bring the temperature slider to cool in ACR or Lightroom to give our image that beautiful blue tint, similar to blue hour. For the image below, this was shot late on, so I increased added a cooler temperature and emphasized the blues a little more. This made the sky an appealing blue, rather than a brown/black colour, and added an almost futuristic feel to the scene.


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When Sunset is Disappointing – 14 Ways Blue Hour Can Save Your Images
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