Monday, June 14, 2010
Blue Hour Photography
A good exercise for a beginner photographer is to take pictures of a place at different times, during sunrise, sunset, blue hour and at noon to see how the lighting conditions change (as the sun rises you have harsher light and shadows, during sunset you have warm colors, during overcast you have even light). I have always wanted to take pictures Downtown Tampa during blue hour. Blue hour is a magical time to shoot after sunset or before sunrise. I have not shot blue hour shots before sunrise so I will talk about blue hour photography after sunrise. The characteristic of the blue hour photography is the rich blue sky you get if you take pictures after sunset. Blue hour varies- if the sky is clear, you have more time to take blue hour pictures after sunset, if the sky is cloudy, the blue hour happens earlier and you have a narrower window of time to shoot. My advice is to start taking photographs from East to West because of the narrow window of time and use shorter shutter speeds to obtain richer colors. Longer shutter speeds may give you a nice sky but they wash out the lights on buildings. Because of the low lighting conditions and slower shutter speed you use for low light photography, a tripod is a must to avoid motion blur. To see if your exposure is correct, don’t use your in camera meter but use your histogram. I don’t leave the camera’s white balance in auto because most cameras try to warm up the cool colors in the sky. Instead I set the white balance in manual mode and I start at 3400 (note- you can solve this problem in post processing by changing the color temperature). If you can’t set your white balance manually, set it at tungsten. Chimp to see if you got a nice blue sky. I usually take a couple of shots and adjust my white balance accordingly to bring out the blue sky. I start with the following camera settings: ISO 100 or 200, f 6 or7 and 1/45 (if I shoot right after sunset and I have some light). I do test shots and change the settings each time I change the place and the sky gets darker. You have to experiment. The last University of Tampa images were taken with 4, 10 and 15 seconds exposures and f 15 (with the higher fstops, I wanted bring out the starburst). Still, the third minaret remained overexposed so it is something I have to pay attention next time. All the pictures were taken using a wide angle lens, hence the lens distortion that I never got to correct in Photoshop. I only shoot in RAW file format and I use the manual mode. I prefer getting the perfect image in camera because I want to do as little post processing as possible. I only used tripod for the night shots and not for the blue hour shots (big mistake!). I should have used a shutter release cable to avoid camera shake and manual focus as I had focusing problems. I will remember these things next time .
Things to remember:
!!!!! Do not set your ISO higher! Even though I used a tripod with my Nikon D300 and the pictures I took with ISO 560 are noisy.
!Check the lights on the buildings and street to see if they are overexposed!
! ISO 100 or 200 to minimize the digital noise in the picture
! Long exposure!
! Use a moderate fstop (use high fstops if you want to achieve the starburst effect on the lights; higher fstops are needed for full zoom)
! Remote control! (I don’t have one but I will get one soon) Instead, I will use the “self timer” function in the camera, this allows the camera to rest a couple of seconds before the exposure.
There is even a Blue Hour Site where you can figure out the exact time of the blue hour in your area and a blue hour group on Flickr. Have fun shooting blue hour images and let me know about your results.