Landscape photographers love shooting during the golden hour of the day. They love the warm mushy light that tend to hug and wrap around everything, changing everything that they touch into gold. It’s the Midas touch of sorts, so far as lighting is concerned. Landscape photographers make it a point to be where they wish to shoot from at this time of the day. Once they have the shots that they need they pack their gear and leave.

However,a different variety of photographers tend to appear at the scene silently. While the golden hour photographers toil at their craft, they watch, wait, setup and prepare to shoot. They even make a few shots of their own during the golden hour. But they become active when the golden hour photographers leave. These are the “blue hour” photographers and the time of the day they love shooting their images is known as the “blue hour”.

The blue hour is the twilight hour of the day. It’s about half an hour before sunrise and half an hour after sunset and gives a beautiful deep blue tone to the sky.


outdoor photography golden gate

You don’t need special settings for shooting during the blue hour of the day. Many of the settings and advice that I am going to share here are applicable for most landscape photography attempts that you make. You would have probably used them during the golden hour as well. White balance is something that you need to keep an eye on though. Normally, I would recommend something like 4500 ° kelvin and adjusting as you go.

Shooting in the manual mode is highly recommended as you would be able to control the depth of field as well as the exposure. You would, most likely be, shooting with a long exposure. Long exposures will allow you to capture light in a way that is impossible if you attempt at freezing the moment using a fast shutter speed. Keep the aperture small. Smaller apertures give you a vast depth of field but they also offer something else and that is an interesting star burst effect.

outdoor street lights

Imagine you are shooting during the blue hour and the street lights are on. If you use a small enough aperture such as f/11 or smaller, the street lights will appear as if they are small twinkling stars.

Shoot in RAW. I cannot emphasize this any more than I have already done on this website. If you are serious about photography you must learn how to shoot in RAW. If you are too lazy, you can drag all your RAW exposures and convert them to JPEG in Lightroom. That will be a few minutes of work. But at no point should you shoot in JPEG.

Get yourself a good quality tripod.A good quality tripod will ensure that your long exposures are shake free and usable. Most budding landscape photographers take a lot of interest in buying lenses and cameras. But they overlook the one item that’s going to carry all that stuff – the tripod. Even a small tripod is better than not having any. I would recommend buying one that’s going to last for years and be a true companion for your outdoor photo treks.

Using the right filter

blue hour landscape

Now, shooting during the blue hour, you will require some special tools. Usually during the blue hour (and this happens also during the golden hour), the sky is brighter than the foreground and this creates a unique problem. You cannot set one single exposure that can properly expose for both the sky and the foreground. I know many of you would say at this point “HDR”. Yes the HDR technique works too. But I am a big fan of getting things right in camera. I hate sitting in front of my computer and editing my images for hours. Plus, there are certain compositions where you cannot use the HDR technique.

Variable neutral density filters

The solution is a filter known as variable neutral density. It has a clear edge and a dark edge that (obviously) clears out at the other end. These are available in several shapes but the rectangular ones are the most used. Keep the clear side towards the ground and the dark side towards the top when you make your exposures.

Color enhancing filters

Textured sky (one that has patches of cloud) does wonders to twilight photos or photos shot during the blue hour. If it is completely clear, try and crop out the sky and use more of the foreground. Another alternative would be to use color enhancing filters which tend to enhance certain colors while leaving others unchanged. Architecture photos can benefit from the use of color enhancing filters and so does landscape photos shot during the twilight hour.

Light painting

There are lots and lots of creative things that you can do when shooting at the twilight hour. You can shoot light trails, long exposures of marina, capture clouds rolling in over a 4 or 6 second exposure and create that sense of passage of time that is difficult otherwise to showcase in a two dimension still frame. However, there are certain really cool stuff that is not often done. One such thing is light painting.

Light painting is a neat little trick that warrants the use of a small light source, often colored, combined with a long exposure. You can use flash gels, purple, orange, red, anything really that can accentuate the colors of the sky and the surrounding.

Often you would come across a beautiful sunset scene, say at a marina. You shoot a few quick images and then leave. I urge you to stay back. As the sun goes down you will notice that the colors are changing. There will be, all of a sudden, a lot more purple and magenta tones. The street lights will come on as well. The reflections on the waterwill look cool when you smoothen them out over a long exposure.

light marina

Speaking of reflections, it is such a beautiful element when you can use it correctly in your images. Reflections add some extra colors to your composition which, against the backdrop of a dark-blue sky, look kind of interesting. So, if you are at a marina at twilight and you have all those boats which are colorfully lit, you can capture not only the natural colors of the twilight but also the reflection of the lights from the boats. Of course a color enhancing filter will certainly help.

Ok, I was trolling a little. But that was necessary as light painting does work with reflections as well. So, the idea is to use a light source preferably colorized and then use it to paint over the structure or the specific object that you are photographing over a long exposure and make it stand out. You can create a unique image that is hard to achieve using natural light.

These are just a few of the techniques that you can use to shoot outdoor photos beyond the proverbial golden hour. So the next time you are shooting images outdoor, don’t just leave when the sun has gone down. Stick around for another half an hour for the encore.

Ben Novoselsky

Ben Novoselsky

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Entrepreneur, geek, photo enthusiast.
Ben Novoselsky

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