The blue hour is a lesser-known photography phenomenon. You would have all heard of the golden hour in photography and filmmaking, but for some reason, it slips under the radar.
We don’t know why, as the blue hour is incredible. It brings out deep blues in the sky and allows you to take incredible photographs. It’s such a soft natural light that can be used in various genres to pull the atmosphere out of the scene and into the audience’s laps.
Today we are going to look into what the blue hour is in photography and film, when the blue hour occurs during the day, most importantly, the top tips when shooting using the blue hour!
Let’s dive straight into it.
What is the blue hour in photography?
It’s a phenomenon that occurs twice a day. Once in the morning, the other in the evening. This is where the sun rises just above the horizon in the morning and again in the evening as the sun is just about to dip below the horizon.
It starts as the sky turns from the golden hour of reds and oranges to a light blue. The light blue is officially when the blue hour starts. It then transitions into a deep, dark blue – perfect for those moody shots.
The blue light is caused by the distance between the sun and the horizon, and when it hits that specific point, the only indirect blue light will be visible. Blue light has shorter wavelengths, scattering it into the earth’s atmosphere.
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What is the blue hour in film?
It’s the same as the blue hour in photography, but you will be creating moving footage instead of taking a picture.
We like shooting key scenes in the blue hour. It’s great for a dramatic scene, maybe even the turning point from act 1 to 2.
You can be extremely creative with the blue hour when you film your scene. Just ensure that you prepare as much as possible to utilise the blue hour to its fullest.
More top tips are down below to help you film in the blue hour to your best potential.
When is the Blue hour?
It occurs twice a day, once in the morning when the sun rises and then again in the evening when the sun sets.
The blue hour varies in terms of the time it appears. Many factors determine this, including the current season, weather conditions and where you are in the world.
It occurs at the start of the day and then once more at the end of the day. It appears just as the sun begins to rise to produce a deep blue colour that slowly turns into a much lighter blue in the morning. Then, it goes from a lighter blue in the evening, slowly turning into a much deeper blue.
It begins early in the morning for around 35-40 minutes as the sun rises and then again as the sun sets in the evening. Make sure you get there still whilst it’s dark in the morning to ensure you have time to set up and capture it in the morning.
Then again, in the evening, make sure you get there before it starts to get dark to ensure you’re all set for the big finale!
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How long does the blue hour last?
Funnily enough, it usually only lasts around 35-40 minutes. You also need to factor in the time of the year and the weather conditions.
Poor weather can severely impact the blue hour, and in some instances, not be visible at all. You need to be flexible and plan your shoot well, including looking at the weather forecasts. This will give you the best possible chance of capturing it in its glory.
For instance, when discussing visibility, the weather plays a big part. The clearer the sky, the more amplified the blue effect is. It doesn’t have to be completely clear, but to capture the blue hour at its finest point, try and pick a day where there’s little to no clouds forecasted.
However, sometimes with clouds, it creates a pink hue that compliments the blue well, a bit of a mixture of the blue hour and the golden hour, but in general, terms make sure the sky is relatively clear to allow you to capture it.
It occurs when the sun hits around -9° and -5° below the earth’s horizon. This is definite, but how long it stays in that position can depend on where you are in the world, the current weather conditions and the season you are currently in.
An example of the blue hour’s visibility depending on location is that the sun rises and sets incredibly quickly if you’re closer to the equator. Hence, the timeframe you can film in the blue hour is minimal.
However, the sun does not move too far below or above the horizon in the arctic circle, meaning the blue hour lasts much, much longer.
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What camera settings should I use for the blue hour?
Setting for this scenario can vary as the variables that occur in the atmosphere differ tremendously day by day. However, as a rule of thumb, most people will be looking to capture the blue hour with a wide-angle shot.
To achieve the best possible shot, ensure that the aperture is set around f/10-f/12 and keep the ISO at around 200.
Shutter speed generally depends on the look you’re going for, but due to the light conditions of the blue hour, a fast shutter speed is recommended and a stable camera setup. This is to ensure you don’t get a blurred picture and additional unwanted noise with any motion.
This is so you can keep a crisp, clean shot and have a scene that oozes personality, leaving the audience wanting more. Make sure you shoot in raw format. So you can edit the colours in post-production; your editor will thank you a lot for that!
Top tips for shooting with the Blue hour
Here are a few key tips to ensure you get the most out of the blue hour. Ranging from preparation to your camera settings, everything is important.
Let’s get into the top tips for nailing your next shoot in the blue hour.
Organisation is key. Before the shoot, make sure you scout the area to understand what the surroundings are like, where the best angles are for your scene and where best to shoot to ensure you get the most out of the blue hour.
This includes scoping out the weather to make sure you have enough visibility to capture the deep blues and that it gives you the most amount of time possible to get the scene shot to your preference.
Also, it’s good to scope out the surroundings in terms of trees and buildings that may block out your view. Make sure you find the right spot to film uninterrupted footage, using the deep, dark blues to your advantage.
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This point goes hand in hand with the above; it’s all about planning ahead. Make sure you get to your location a couple of hours ahead. This will allow you to set up and be prepared to get into the scene as soon as the blue lights descend.
You’ve got such a small window to shoot in, so make sure you make the most of it! Natural light is unpredictable, so you need to be as prepared as possible.
Make sure you rehearse the scenes with the actors. The more shots you can take, the better the scene will be, allowing your editor to have a range of options, ultimately improving the movie.
Don’t get us wrong; it’s great for spontaneity to occur on the set. But, for efficiency, if your actors know their lines and the spots they need to hit, spontaneity can occur around that.
It means you can get multiple takes and make the most of the lighting.
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Correct camera settings
The correct camera settings are incredibly important when filming in the blue hour. To achieve the best possible shot, ensure that the aperture is set around f/10-f/12 and keep the ISO at around 200.
This will allow you to get a crisp shot and alleviate any potential motion blur. Make sure you keep your camera as stable as possible, including action shots. Use a gimbal to keep action shots stable as this will stop the motion blur, paired with a fast shutter speed.
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Flexibility is important; the weather is unpredictable, and the blue hour even more so. You may need to swap shoot dates, so make sure your cast and crew are made aware and compensated correctly if it’s a budgeted shoot.
There will be instances where you arrive, set up, the weather is perfect, but the blue light is terrible. It’s disheartening, but you will need to rearrange and pick another clear day to capture it at its optimum.
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Post production is key
Shooting in raw will help you out a lot in post production. This will allow the editor/colourist the freedom to edit the footage and to bring out the blues and create a cinematic masterpiece.
This will also stop any automatic white balance corrections that could potentially cause overexposure.
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The golden hour vs the blue hour
A question we are often asked is, what’s the difference between the golden hour and the blue hour? Although they have a lot of similarities, they are worlds apart.
A couple of similarities are that they both occur twice a day and occur once in the morning and once in the evening. But in terms of colour, mood and timing, they do vary a little.
The difference between the golden hour and the blue hour
What are the other differences when it comes to the blue hour vs the golden hour? Let’s have a look at them below.
The difference in timing is subtle, but it’s there. The blue hour occurs right at the start of the sunset, the blue light peaks over. Then again, just as the sun is going behind the horizon, the blue hour starts.
The golden hour occurs after the blue hour in the morning and after the golden hour in the evening. Just after the blue hour, the golden hour occurs.
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Another difference between the two is the difference between the blue hour and the golden hour is a few things, firstly the colour. The colour is dark, deep blue during the blue hour, whereas the golden hours are red, warm, high in hue.
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