In this chapter, let’s go through 3 challenges of blue hour photography that we come across.
Weather (Sky and Light)
Blue hour (here I refer it to as “twilight and dusk”) photography can be shot on any evening unless raining, but how good your photos will be largely depends on two things, sky and light. A clear evening is the perfect recipe for beautiful blue hour photos, but a partly cloudy evening is also shootable. Some photographers even prefer those part-cloudy days as shooting with long exposure can add interesting movement to the sky, like the photo below I shot at Singapore CBD. Personally, I still prefer the cloud-less sky on a clear day, though, as the quality of light is much nicer, which can be noticeable in the photos.
Although I prefer clear sky for dusk shooting, part-cloudy sky with long exposure can add interesting movement to the sky (Singapore Skyline, 18mm, f/13, 162 seconds [with 6 stop ND filter attached], ISO 100, shot 9 minutes before the end of dusk).
In an ideal world, the sun should always set in the direction of what you’re shooting (e.g. cityscape) to add beautiful hues of twilight sky to your photos, but cities aren’t built with photographers in mind, obviously. If your cityscape shooting spot has the sun setting opposite the city center (i.e. behind you shooting), the sky in the direction of city looks rather dull, which is still shootable, but photos won’t come out as vibrant as those shooting towards where the sun went down.
The sky looks dull and monotonous because this is the sky 180 degrees opposite where the sun went down. To shoot the sky with beautiful hues of colours, I’ll need to find a spot on the other side of the city (i.e. shooting towards where the sun set) or come back to shoot dawn-to-sunrise although not many city lights are likely to be lit (Fukuoka Skyline [Japan], 23mm, f/13, 30 seconds [with 3 stop ND filter attached], ISO 100, shot 6 minutes after dusk).
“Longness” in Long Exposure Photography
Long exposure photography limits the number of photos you can take at twilight and dusk due to its “longness”. I typically start shooting when the blue hue appears in the twilight sky, which is normally about 10 minutes before the end of dusk. Using my favourite 6 stop neutral density (ND) filter, I’d probably be able to take no more than a few photos in this 10 minutes.
One solution is to use a ND filter with lesser strength (e.g. 3 stop), which shortens exposure time and allows you to take more photos during blue hour. That said, for shooting at waterfront, water in the photos won’t look as smoothed-out as those shot with 6 stop ND filter attached, though.
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