True blue

The blue hour, the time of twilight just after sunset and right before dusk when the sky turns a deep saturated blue, is the subject of the latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment. It’s that depth of color that makes photos taken at this hour so appealing. There are challenges to photographing at this time chief among them is the lack of light making getting a correct exposure difficult.

Perhaps it was this difficulty that kept many away from the assignment. There are 2 main ways to deal with low light situations. First, you can increase your camera’s ISO settings (the camera’s sensitivity to light). However with the higher ISOs comes more digital noise in your photos. Every camera handles the noise differently most will accept at least a modest bump up in ISO, but go too high and then the visual noise will make the photo unusable.

Secondly, using a tripod will allow you to use slower shutter speeds thus avoiding having to use the higher ISOs. The tripod will hold the camera steady to avoid shaking the camera, which can cause blurry pictures. Some people don’t like the bulk and with it added effort and time that a tripod brings but it’s the surest way to keep your photos sharp in low light conditions.

Whatever the reasons, turnout for this assignment was lower than usual. 8 undaunted people sent in a total of 41 photos. Here are the best examples of the their view of the blue hour.


Normally no more than 1 photo is chosen from any single entrant for the top picks but Dave Skinner of Stockton had two noteworthy photos for the challenge.

He used a Nikon D90 DSLR and an early morning blue hour to photograph the Stockton icon of Burns Tower on the campus of the University of the Pacific. The stark white of the building stood out in stark contrast to the saturated blue sky. I liked how he used the branches of a tree in the foreground to visually frame the tower at the top of the photo. If the photo were taken earlier in the morning before the blue hour, the tree, as well as the tree line in the background would have blended into the black sky and become virtually invisible.

On morning of Aug. 11, Skinner once again got up early to photograph a “super moon” which is a full moon that is closer to the Earth in its orbit and thus appears slightly bigger and brighter in the sky. He used some of the power lines along Enterprise Street in Stockton as a part of his composition with the enlarge moon hanging in the blue hour sky. Serendipity can be advantageous in photography for those who are ready for it. Skinner said that the morning blue hour was waning and he was ready to quit shooting when a mockingbird landed on one of the lines to that added just a little more visual interest to his photo.


Like Skinner, Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton also had more than one picture that was a great example of the blue hour.

She photographed the San Francisco skyline from a pier near the Ferry Building along the embarcadero during the evening blue hour with a Nikon D90 DSLR camera. The dark silhouettes of the buildings stood in strong relief against the blue sky while the railing along the pier as well as the warm illumination of the buildings and streetlights helps to welcome the viewers into the photo and invites them to visually explore the scene.

Spurgeon then turned her camera eastward and photographed the Bay Bridge as it stretched from the City to Yerba Buena Island. The relatively new lights decorating the suspension cables and the lights of the Port of Oakland beyond glow like warm jewels against the blue our sky.


Lindsey Shepherd Wanner of Bloomington, Illinois (her mother still lives in Stockton and sends her articles from The Record) photographed the scene out of her airplane window during a return flight from Dallas/Fort Worth to Bloomington. From the time stamp in the photo’s metadata the picture was shot after 9:00 p.m. That should have been well after the blue hour, but plane’s altitude extended the period of twilight. The last remnants of a sunset can bee seen on the horizon and the lights of a town can bee seen in a field of blue on the ground below.


As always all the entries can be seen in a gallery at Stay tuned for next Thursday for a new challenge assignment.

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