For the love of blue…

There is an almost palpable pause after the sun retires over the horizon then BAM, the world is bathed in the most beautiful cobalt blue light you’ve ever seen.

This has always been one of my favorite phenomena. Even as a kid it marked the end of adventurous summer days when it was time to come in and clean off the dirt from another summer day straight out of a Calvin and Hobbes comic. In college, one of my best friends in the world called it “when the world turns blue”. I still keep that term for it and have even said it to my kids a couple of times to see if it stuck. I’m not sure yet.

Imagine my surprise when I learned there is a term for this in photography. It’s called the Blue Hour. Even more amazing is that it happens twice a day! The time is about 30 – 45 minutes before sunrise or after sunset. Don’t take this as gospel though, it’s fleeting and the time varies. Some Blue Hours are better than others, and some don’t show up at all. It’s a gamble, but it’s well worth it.

Both of these images are of Wallis Sands State Beach in Rye NH. It’s a small-ish beach but has enough variety to make up for it. It also has some great rocky areas where I’ve found starfish and some neat rock formations. This is a favorite spot of mine when I am in need of inspiration, want to go shoot and don’t have any ideas, or want to try out a piece of gear or technique. So yes, I have a lot of terrible images from this place. But a handful of my favorites are from these photographic jam sessions too. Let’s look at a couple of examples taken on the same evening and see how Blue Hour can save, or even be the best light to shoot in.

This first image is… well… it sucks. I’m ok with it. The sky was grey and dank. The image is lifeless and while the composition is ok, everything else is just, well, blah. In fact I’ve over-Lightroomed it in order to make anything usable out of it. I also artificially warmed up (made more yellow) the sand and rock while at the same time artificially making the sky more cool (blue).

1 Second exposure at f/10.ISO 400. 11mm Focal Length on a crop sensor camera. Sucky.

Now let’s have a look at a second image, taken about a half hour later I believe. My camera’s timestamp was messed up at the time and I didn’t know it, so you can’t trust the timestamps on these images.

120 second exposure at f/11 ISO 160. 11mm focal length on a crop sensor camera. Significantly less sucky.

Personally I like the second image much better. The rich blue is way more interesting. The foreground warmth is more natural, and if you look closely in the sky you can see some small star trails while still having a small warm burst of light from sunset.

So when other photographers pack up their gear and head home (or to the bar!) after the sun goes down, hang out for a while longer, the best is yet to come.