One of my favorite times of the day is called the Blue Hour. This is the period of twilight each morning and evening where there is neither full daylight nor complete darkness. The quality of light at this time of day, in my opinion, is spectacular.

Since you are taking a photograph when the sun isn’t even up, I’m sure many of you are thinking this will be tough. It’s easier than you think.

What you will need

To take photographs at this time, you will need:

  • Camera

o   DSLR digital camera

o   Some compact cameras are capable if they have a night photography mode or manual controls that allow exposures above 5 seconds long and a setting to completely turn off the flash

  • Sturdy tripod
  • Good location
  • Remote control for your camera (optional), but prevents camera movement from your hand pressing the button

Select a location

Not every location will work. Most common places include buildings, cityscapes, bridges, monuments, etc., all being well lit or having some form of lights that can enhance the photograph. One of my favorite photos that I’ve taken during the blue hour wasn’t a common place at all, and there were no lights (see Sandhill Crane photo below). So you can take great photographs that don’t follow the norm.

Just select a location and subject that you enjoy. Since you’re starting out, I would recommend including lights or a bright area. If an area is too bright, it will burn a “white spot” into your photograph where the light is. A white spot is just what it sounds like, a white spot where the light is. You won’t be able to tell what type of light source it is because the area will be all white.

Compose your photograph

Set your camera manually to:

  • Low ISO 100-200 (if you are working with moving objects similar to my Sandhill Crane photograph, below, you may want to try 400 as well)
  • Aperture around f7-f10
  • Exposure time 1-5 seconds
For moving objects like the Sandhill Crane photograph, below, I wanted to show the movement of the cranes. If you want to show movement while trying to get a hint of what it is you are photographing, you may want to try setting your camera to:
  • Low ISO 400
  • Aperture around f4-f8
  • Exposure time 0-3 seconds
(Click images below to see larger photograph. To get back to blog, select "Back to Shot Shorts" just above each photograph.)

This is a photograph of migrating Sandhill Cranes along the Platte River in Nebraska. Shooting during the blue hour with no flash and a moving subject will capture movement. I love the way the sky “moves,” capturing the cranes flying in for the night along the river. This photograph was taken at ISO 400; f5.6. To read the previous “Crane-A-Rama” blog, go to March 2011. 

Take notes

Today’s cameras and post-production photography programs enable you to view the settings your camera was at when a specific photograph was taken. So, half of the work is already done for you. However, your camera may not tell you how long the shutter speed was open. If you take notes on anything, take notes on how long you left the shutter open. 

Over time, your photography will improve.

Here are some blue hour photographs of mine from a recent trip to Boston.

George Washington Statue in Boston Commons.

Bunker Hill and the moon.

Bunker Hill and the moon with the glow of the rising sun just above the trees at the bottom.

Bunker Hill just at the cusp of the Blue Hour and Golden Hour. The Golden Hour is the time just after the sun rises.