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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 02/ 4/2008

"Blue Hour" Photography at the Capitol

By Ian Livingston

Settings: f/10, 4 second exposure at ISO 200.

Saturday's high temperature of 51 degrees at Reagan National Airport was seven degrees higher than the average for the date and presented a great opportunity for some mid-winter blue hour photography. And just what is the blue hour? It is the window that begins minutes after sunset and continues through the end of twilight (when the sky turns black). This time of year it's more of a blue 15 minutes than a blue hour due to the low sun angle. The blue "hour" provides a photographer the ideal combination of natural and man-made light for giving an image warmth and depth. These qualities are much harder to obtain once the sky goes black.

I spent the afternoon on the National Mall and made my way over to the Capitol Building just as the sun was setting at 5:30 p.m. As I quickly setting up my tripod, winds were light and the air felt somewhat "balmy" for a February evening as the show began. A photographer from outside the area was set up next to me, and with the picture perfect lighting, I felt assured he would go home happy.

The first image in this post was taken at 5:55 pm, 24 minutes after sunset and 10 minutes after the one directly below. In the time between these two images, the blue hour was beginning to move towards peak and the earlier hues of pink and purple evident below began fading to a consistently darker shade of blue.

Settings: f/8, 1.3 second exposure at ISO 100.

This blue hour shoot at the Capitol was actually my second in the last two years. My first trip was February 3, 2006 just after I moved to Washington, DC.

The high temperature that day in 2006 -- February 3 -- was even warmer than this past weekend as temperatures reached 62 degrees at Reagan National -- a reminder that warm spells are not uncommon in February. Just a few days later, the February 11-12 snowstorm affected the I-95 corridor from DC to Boston. Nothing like that is on the horizon here right now, but just because it is warm one or two days does not mean it can't snow quickly thereafter.

The Capitol Building during a similar blue hour two years ago on February 3, 2006.

If you are interested in taking pictures during the blue hour all you need is a tripod, a camera with either a timer or a remote shutter release capability, and and to know when the sun is setting, so give it a try. And finally, when out looking for one picture, remember to turn around to see what's going on behind you...

Closeup of scene published with Sunday's forecast. Taken at 6:04 p.m. looking towards where the sun set 30 minutes earlier.

By Ian Livingston  | February 4, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Photography  
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Very cool shot. Thanks for the info. I've heard of something like magic hour - right before sunset but never heard of blue hour before.

Posted by: John - Burke | February 4, 2008 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Love this blog! It's now the best weather information around for the area. Getting neat photos and info on how they were captured is icing on the cake.

Posted by: Robin | February 4, 2008 11:43 AM | Report abuse

Gorgeous pictures and fantastic info- thanks!

Posted by: Etta | February 4, 2008 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Beautiful! Thanks for sharing! :)

Posted by: DC Snow Baby | February 4, 2008 3:10 PM | Report abuse

Great shots Ian. I've noticed that the same time period between sunset and twilight can also produce shades of magenta when the sky is cloudy.

Posted by: Kevin, Capital Weather Gang | February 4, 2008 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Magnificent photos.

Posted by: El Bombo | February 4, 2008 4:20 PM | Report abuse

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