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Category Archives: Blue Hour
“The goal of creative photography goes beyond the mere production of images that are technically good or that adequately reflect the subject as seen; rather, the goal is to produce images that uniquely represent the photographer’s vision and possess meanings beyond the literal visual elements they portray.” ~ Guy Tal
Guy Tal is one of my favorite contemporary photographers, and favorite philosophers and thinkers. His prose often moves me as deeply as his photographs, while his photos are some of my all-time favorites. His words encourage me to make meaningful images, wherever I am.
As a lifelong wanderer and a landscape photographer, I love to travel. I dream of unscheduled days of hiking; time for slow, week-long drives up and down the coast, as well as the hardest to put together, weeks of totally open time with the resources and freedom to wander spontaneously wherever the spirit moves me.
Alas, this winter, travel is not to be. With a new baby and a 19-month old daughter at home, I am nesting and nestling with family. That said, I do get restless to get outside and to make some photos. Winter is my favorite season to play and to shoot. I am taking short, quick outings very close to home. I’m shooting on the way to my day job and on the way home. I’m shooting for 30 minutes at dusk, or an hour after all the children have gone to bed. Because I know the area I’m shooting intimately, I adjust where I shoot for the best conditions.
The farthest I have travelled for photography this year is 20 miles.
And I was out and back in less than 2 hours.
Tight shooting schedules have pushed me to make more intentional images. In the past I might have gone out for a half-day or day of shooting in the Whites or on the coast and come home with 500+ images. These days I am coming home with 10 or 20 tops.
And a funny thing is happening as I have less time to shoot. I am slowing down. I am spending more time looking before I shoot. I am spending time being still. I am considering and reconsidering compositions. I am reconnecting with the local landscapes, which is one of the things that drew me to photography in the first place. I am finding incredible beauty literally in my back yard.
Shooting close to home, often at places I have shot multiple times, pushes me to look beyond the obvious and to try to find something more intimate. I imagine being inspired by the spirit of a place. It may be a hokey idea, but it often feels true. All of the images in this blog post were shot less than 2 miles from home. The church and the doorway were shot on the way to and from work. The trees were shot at dusk one day and at midnight the other (after the entire family went to sleep).
It is good to be home.
The Science of Light
After the sun sets each evening, there is a fairly prolonged transition between day and night. It’s a phenomena that we experience each day, but have we ever stopped to ponder what’s behind the dusky blue hour?
The reason that the landscape doesn’t immediately go dark after sunset, and we instead experience degrees of twilight, is due to the properties of both the light and atmosphere itself, and is rooted in the same reason that the daytime sky is blue.
Light from the sun reaches the Earth as a full spectrum of electromagnetic waves. The waves all travel the same speed, but have extremely varied wavelengths, with waves of red light nearly twice long as blue light. The wavelengths of blue light are nearly the same size as many of the gas molecules in the atmosphere, and because of this comparable size, are prone to being scattered. This scattering, or bouncing around of blue light in the sky by the air itself is the reason why the daytime sky appears blue.
If you hold a prism up to the sun during the noontime hour, you will see that only a small amount of the blue light is actually scattered out by our relatively thin atmosphere. As the sun sets in the evening though, the amount of atmosphere that the sun’s light travels through is significantly increased by the angle of solar incidence, and more and more blue light is scattered out. This allows the reds and oranges, the longer wavelengths which are less likely to be scattered, to shine through dominantly, and give us the great colors at sunset.
Because very little orange or red light is scattered, as soon as the sun slips below the horizon the amount of red and orange light reaching the landscape drops to near zero. This doesn’t mean that the landscape is dark though, as all of the blue light bouncing around the atmosphere is still finding its way indirectly to you via the scattering. As the sun slips further below the horizon, and civil twilight blends to nautical twilight, the amount of scattered light decreases, and the intensity of the blue color increases.
Science Relates to Art
The dusky blue hour is a great time to open up the shutter and take pictures. Landscape features are still visible, but seemingly appear in monochrome blue. Contrasts are low. Artificial light, with its warm tones, provide a pleasing complimentary color in the developed landscape.
Some of my favorite shots have been taken during the blue hour. These shots are often moody, giving the viewer not only a sense of place but a true feeling of what it was like to truly experience the scene.
A misty lake, predawn, before color fills the sky, with silhouettes of trees on the opposite shoreline just becoming visible creates an image with much more depth than the same scene an hour or two later in the morning.
A winter landscape, a classic view of a familiar scene takes on new life when bathed in the blue light after sunset. Shots during the blue hour require long exposures, and movement is often seen in the clouds.
A holiday scene, with snow still falling taken before the fading light obscured the surrounding hillsides. The strongest contrasts were created between artificial and natural light.
These shots highlight the possibilities that taking photographs during the dusky blue hour can provide. For further reading about the blue hour, and some of the technical aspects of shooting during this time, I recommend clicking over to this excellent piece written by my colleague Mike Blanchette.
Now that the hustle and bustle of summer and fall foliage season is over, you may be tempted to clean your photo gear and put it away for the winter season. Not so fast! There are many places in New England that offer year-round, four-season shooting possibilities. One of them is Reid State Park in Georgetown, Maine.
The park is located 20 minutes off U.S. Route 1 and is located on the picturesque Georgetown Peninsula.
Reid State Park bears the distinct honor as being Maine’s first State-owned saltwater beach. In 1946, prosperous businessman and Georgetown resident Walter E. Reid donated land to the State of Maine to be preserved forever, and a few years later Reid State Park became a reality.
Today, thousands of visitors enjoy the park’s long, wide sand beaches like Mile and Half Mile, which are rare in Maine. Enjoyed as a recreational resource, the beaches are also essential nesting areas for endangered least terns and piping plovers, as well as resting and feeding areas for other shore birds. Rarer than beaches along Maine’s coast are large sand dunes, like those at Reid. For a geologic tour of the beaches visit The Geology of Mile and Half Mile Beaches.
One of the most fascinating phenomena for me is the thick, lingering foam created when the waves crash on the beach. The foam hangs in the sand for several seconds before gravity takes it back to the sea. It is both fascinating to watch and photograph. The best time to experience this is when the incoming tide is about half in and the waves are cresting at their highest.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the park for me as a photographer is the ever-changing light. It changes many times throughout the day, but is most interesting just before, during, and after the golden hours before sunset. Sometimes this transforms the beach – and the lagoon behind it – into pastel colors that are fascinating to observe and photograph.
Winter is a great time to visit the park. The best time to visit is right after a fresh snow when the beach and marshes are covered. Dress very warmly if you venture to the park in winter as there is always a stiff breeze this time of year and it can get very cold.
My experience has been that no matter when you visit the park – Spring, Summer, Fall or Winter – the park presents many diverse photo
opportunities. From eagles, osprey, and ducks in the marsh behind the dunes, to beautiful foliage in autumn, the park is full of wonders to observe and photograph.
The park opens at 9 am daily, and the gates close promptly at sunset.
Here are some useful links for information:
As a photographer living in Rockport, Massachusetts, I feel truly blessed to be within easy reach of the incredible scenic beauty of Rockport Harbor. Nestled at the tip of Cape Ann and overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Rockport Harbor is a paradise for photographers of all levels.
Consisting of two distinct sections, Rockport Harbor features both an inner harbor and an outer harbor. The tranquility of the inner harbor is a favorite area of mine. From multi-colored skiffs and handcrafted buoys, to towers of lobster traps and an occasional acrobatic seagull, there’s a great deal of diversity to capture with the lens.
Perhaps the most recognized landmark in all of Rockport is world famous Motif #1. This iconic structure is one of the most photographed and painted seaside buildings in North America. Motif #1′s artistic appeal is more than its scenic location. Its actual position within the harbor equally influences what captivates the eye.
From sunrise to sunset, Motif #1 is bathed in ever-changing light and shadow. In the world of photography, these two elements affect everything. Add to that dramatic cloud formations and mirrored water reflections, and it’s easy to see what makes Rockport Harbor a photographer’s paradise.
The magic of Rockport Harbor begins early in the day. The “blue hour” before sunrise is one of my favorite times. I love the serenity before the world awakens… quiet… tranquil… peaceful. As the sun begins its ascent, the orange/blue glow that fills the horizon becomes a spectacular backdrop to the silhouette of the harbor. It’s truly magical.
Rockport Harbor can be viewed from many diverse vantage points, including the inner harbor’s T-Wharf, the scenic overlook of The Headlands, and popular Bearskin Neck. A few of the downtown shops also feature viewing decks that are open to the public free of charge. Lula’s Pantry is my personal favorite and it is from there that I took the wide-angle shot featured at the top of this article.
For added excitement, let’s not forget the dramatic bonus of the Atlantic Ocean. Nor’easter storms are no stranger to Rockport Harbor. They come with the New England territory. During these times — and often immediately after — the ocean loves to show off her power. That is always fine with me. It makes for some exciting photo ops along the breakwater that protects the outer harbor!
On a side note, if you’re ever viewing the harbor from the end of Bearskin Neck and have the feeling you’re being watched… you are! There’s a popular local there always looking for a free snack. He also makes a great model.
~ Liz Mackney
Landscape photographers have always cherished the first and last few hours of the day, a time when the light is at its best to show off greater color and detail. But many of us walk away from the scene once the sun has crossed over the horizon. That’s a darn shame because twilight holds the potential for extraordinary photos, in my opinion.
The hour before sunrise and after sunset is known as the “blue hour”. That hour has been romanticized in both song and poem down through the ages. And it probably deserves a bit more respect from us photographers as well. In fact, it may be the best time of day to make moody images that are different from the rest of the pack.
In that brief interim between daylight and darkness, the landscape is veiled in a blue cast that seems to ooze a calming ambiance over the landscape. It tends to be a period of serenity, one that contrasts with the vivid drama of sunrise and sunset. A photo taken at Blue Hour frequently conveys a sense of quiet introspection.
For purposes of photography though, Blue Hour is not really a full hour. In New England (twilight gets shorter as you get closer to the equator), it starts about 30 minutes before sunrise and 15-20 minutes after sunset, lasting no more than 15-20 minutes in duration. It’s a short window of opportunity alright, but one that’s well worth the wait and effort. My rule of thumb is to be in place — with camera ready on tripod — at least 30 minutes before sunrise. For sunset, I plan on staying 45 minutes after the sun has set.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that it takes a nutty kind of dedication to be out making images at dawn and dusk, particularly during those cold New England months when Blue Hour can also be frosty. But once you witness the quality of that blue light, you’re likely to forget the ridiculous hour and start delighting in the creative process.
Photographing at twilight requires no special gear. Bring a snack, dress plenty warm, and relish in the quietude of the Blue Hour. Here are some additional tips that may be helpful in maximizing your twilight photography.
- Make sure your camera can take exposures of up to 30 seconds. You’ll be making long exposures when the sun is down.
- Always use a tripod. The only way to create sharp images in semi-darkness is by taking your camera out of your hands and standing it on solid ground.
- Take RAW files if your camera supports it. This will give you far more leeway in adjusting the exposure and white balance in post-processing.
- Use a cable release or self-timer to avoid camera shake. When making long exposures, any human contact with the camera may increase blur.
- Set your camera on aperture priority. When using a tripod, the shutter speed becomes less important than finding the optimal aperture for a composition.
- Use the lowest ISO possible. Twilight photographs are susceptible to noise due to the darkness and long exposure. Avoid noisy photos by using a low ISO.
- Play with the white balance setting. You can enhance the blueness of the hour by adjusting white balance. Experiment with the tungsten and fluorescent settings either in-camera or in post-processing the RAW file.
- Lens filters are not usually needed. The only exception is when shooting the horizon in the direction of the setting or rising sun. In that case, you may want a graduated neutral density filter (GND) to lessen sky exposure. (Jim Salge showed us how a winter scene can be improved with a polarizer here).
The only way you’ll know if you like twilight photography is to give it a try. I find that photos taken at that time tend to produce a certain WOW factor. Go ahead, go blue.