Cityscape tip #5: blue hour

Cityscape tip #5: blue hour

The blue hour is this magical time of day during which the sky turns to a deep blue. It happens between sunset and night, and it can last from a few minutes to an hour. It is a fantastic time to shoot cities, because of the tones and of the contrast between the warmth of the city lights and the cold of the blue sky. However, it can be tricky to obtain the image you have in mind, so here a few tips. Also, have a look at my previous cityscape tips: Shooting right after sunset. A lot of these tips work during blue hour too!

I'm blue for you | Coal Harbor - Vancouver, BC

I’m blue for you | Coal Harbor – Vancouver, BC

1. Be prepared: to make a successful blue hour trip, you need to know which buildings are illuminated at night. Dark buildings won’t work very well…

2. Shoot to the East and then to the West. Because the sun sets in the West, the sky will be blue earlier in the East and will stay blue later in the West. Be organized!

3. Select your white balance. You camera will get lost between the cold blue sky and the warm yellow buildings. If you expose for the buildings, you may very well end up with a very very blue image! Set your own white balance in this case (it’s pretty much the only case I set my own white balance)

Les 3 mousquetaires | Midtown Manhattan - New York, NY

Les 3 mousquetaires | Midtown Manhattan – New York, NY

4. Expose to the right. Meaning, over-expose. At first, you may think what you see on your LCD screen matches what your eyes are seeing. But your camera has a big advantage: it can see “longer” and sees better in the dark. Take advantage of this and make your image a bit brighter, it will look a lot better.

5. Dodge and burn: maybe the most important step of my post-processing! The sky will come up a bit brighter than the city (especially at the beginning of the blue hour). But you want the eye of the viewer to go to the buildings first. So you need to dodge the buildings and burn the sky a bit. You’ll get a deeper blue and a nicer effect.

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