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Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 08/14/2009

Potomac Twilight on a Spectacular August Evening

By Ian Livingston

* Summer in Cruise Control: Full Forecast | Whale Watching *

The blue hour nears its end at 8:39 p.m. Prominently featured: The Lincoln Memorial, Arlington Memorial Bridge and the Potomac River. Temperature: 78. Dew point: 49.

When I'm in the mood to cart around a tripod, dusk is my favorite time for photographing D.C. I've shot the "blue hour" at the Capitol, the Georgetown Waterfront, the WWII memorial, the White House and elsewhere. This time I turned my attention back to the Potomac River. This was a trip I planned to do a few weeks ago, but storms got in the way, so last Friday (Aug. 7) -- in the below-average and humidity-free calm before the heat wave -- I found time to get out and take a few photos.

What is the blue hour? Keep reading for that answer, and photographs in chronological order as the blue hour progressed last Friday...

The "blue hour" is a period right around sundown (mainly the minutes after) when the sky's natural tones and manmade lighting briefly intersect at a pleasing and fairly low-contrast place. Once the sky is fully black, it is harder to maintain a clean shot without noise and/or blown-out highlights or dark lowlights. The blue shades are quite nice.

For reference: Sunset on Friday Aug. 7 was at 8:12 p.m. Also, see a Google Earth map of where I started (first photo below) and finished (first photo in post, before the jump).

Looking across the Potomac River from near Roosevelt Memorial Bridge at 7:55 p.m. Note some blur to cars on the opposite side and ugly crane next to the Capitol in the distance. Also note, this is an awesome spot for fireworks.

Entering into the blue hour, the time lapse (1.3 seconds in this case) caused by lower light levels begins to show with moving objects, such as the significant blurring of the boat in this scene.

Three minutes after sunset, at 8:15 p.m., the lights on the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument begin to stand out against the darkening sky and the water takes on an increasingly shiny appearance.

By 8:26 p.m., the blue-hour period is peaking.

18 minutes after sundown, a 10-second exposure at f/9 aperture captures a lovely evening scene looking across the Potomac River and into D.C.

By Ian Livingston  | August 14, 2009; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  Photography  
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Very interesting, Ian. Thanks for this post.

Posted by: Ann-CapitalWeatherGang | August 14, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Very nice photos and explanation!

Posted by: Kevin-CapitalWeatherGang | August 14, 2009 9:01 PM | Report abuse

Umm, can't you just change the color temp?

Posted by: JeremeyTrippDOTCOM | August 17, 2009 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Not sure what you mean Jeremy. If you're saying use a white balance setting to pretend you're at that time of day during another time, I think probably not. The lighting of that preiod post sunset and prior to sunrise cannot be faked.

Posted by: Ian-CapitalWeatherGang | August 17, 2009 3:03 PM | Report abuse

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