Blue Hour Calculator for iPhone Photographers

Light is a crucial factor in photography. During the day, light comes in different hues that you may not sense with your naked eye but your camera sensor will and thus will make your photos look different.

In simple words, the light that you get from morning to evening has four different characteristics depending on the time of the day.

It all starts in the morning right before sunset with a blue hour that is followed by a golden hour right after sunrise when the sun is still low on the horizon.

Before noon and in the afternoon you'll have soft and warm light that's ideal for portrait & people photography. Around noon, the light is hard and harsh.

In the evening it all starts with the golden hour again, followed by a blue hour.

To totally confuse you, the golden and blue hours don't actually last for an hour. They can be a lot shorter or longer depending on the time of the year and your geographic location. In December, for example, the blue hour around the polar circle can last for almost 24 hours. Here's a shot of the North Cape statue in Norway that I took around noon back in 2007, when I still used a DSLR. I took it in december. At -5F.

North Cape Statue in Norway photographed with a DSLR back in 2007

North Cape Statue in Norway photographed with a DSLR back in 2007

But you don't need a DSLR for taking photos during the blue hour. Here are some more sample shots that I took with an iPhone during the blue hour in Vienna, Minsk and Tirana.

The Johann Strauss is the oldest vessel that served in the Danube Steam Boat Corporation. It was put into service in 1863 and now decays and waits for its final journey. Photo taken at the beginning of the blue hour

The Johann Strauss is the oldest vessel that served in the Danube Steam Boat Corporation. It was put into service in 1863 and now decays and waits for its final journey. Photo taken at the beginning of the blue hour

Liberty Square in Minsk, photographed minutes before the blue hour ends

Liberty Square in Minsk, photographed minutes before the blue hour ends

A mosque in Tirana, Albania photographed during the blue hour

A mosque in Tirana, Albania photographed during the blue hour

I particularly like the blue hour as it results in a dark and deep blue tone in the sky that looks pretty fantastic with a few clouds in it. I recommend to try and catch the few minutes right before the blue hour ends when the sky has a very dark blue, almost black, tone.

To plan ahead and get to know when the blue hour starts and ends, there are a number of tools available that you can use right on your camera (iPhone ;). Here are two of them that I use.

ProCamera App Widget

If you already own ProCamera, an iPhone camera app that I use quite a lot and recommend, (read my review of ProCamera) you get a free widget with it that will tell you the time of sunset and sunrise as well as the beginning and end of the blue hour as well.

To access the widget:

  1. Pull down from the top of the screen to show the Notification Center
  2. Scroll down to the bottom of the screen and tap "edit"
  3. Under "More Widgets" find the "ProCamera" Widget and tap "plus", then tap Done in the upper right corner of the screen
Adding the ProCamera widget to your notification center

Adding the ProCamera widget to your notification center

Now, locate the widget that you've just added. You may need to tap "Show more" inside the widget and it will expand showing you the time of sunrise and sunset as well as the time when the blue hours begins and ends at your current location like in this screenshot.

ProCamera Widget displaying begin and end time of the blue hour

ProCamera Widget displaying begin and end time of the blue hour


Sun Surveyor App

If you want more sophisticated information, including how shadows will fall during the day, I recommend to check out Sun Surveyor iTunes App Store Link. This handy little app will help you with a lot of things like:

  • Finding the Sun and the Moon using augmented reality
  • Exact times of sunrise, moonrise, sunset, moonset
  • Exact times of blue hours and golden hours in the morning and evening
  • Showing photo opportunities of e.g. full moon, crescent moon, visible milky way
  • Showing and predicting how shadows will fall at any time of the day
Sun Surveyor provides lots of details about the blue and golden hour

Sun Surveyor provides lots of details about the blue and golden hour

At the bottom of the screen are two panels. Swipe left or right on the one at the bottom to see a visual representation of sunrise and sunset as well as the blue hours. Swipe the panel right above this one to get the exact time of the blue and golden hours.

It's a pretty sophisticated app that you can use to predict everything I mentioned above at any location in the world at any time of the day.