I love photographing during the “blue hour” of dusk and dawn. The time right before sunrise and just after sunset, called twilight, is great for photography. While it’s called the blue hour, twilight is technically closer to an hour-and-a-half, but for practical photographic purposes, you have around 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening where the light is great for capturing pictures, so an hour total each day. That’s a small window of opportunity that’s easy to miss.
There are challenges to blue hour photography because the available light is limited and constantly changing. You’re using slow shutter speeds, large apertures and high ISOs. Or you are lugging around a tripod. These aren’t necessarily “bad things” they’re simply a part of blue hour photography, but there is an alternative that eliminates these challenges.
You can do faux blue hour photography anytime of the day with your Fujifilm X100V. It’s a simple trick, really. It requires three things: underexposure, warm high-shutter-speed flash, and a white balance adjustment. With a little slight-of-hand—I mean, technical knowhow—you can create pictures that appear to have been captured during the blue hour but are in fact daytime images.
The first thing you’ll need to do is underexposure your pictures by at least 3 stops from what the meter says that it should be. Most of the pictures that I captured required the exposure to be adjusted to -3 2/3 to -4 1/3, which means you’ll have to go manual, since the exposure compensation dial only goes to -3. You are basically setting the luminance of the background in your pictures, and you want it to be dark. It can be tough to judge in the moment what the exact exposure should be, and it takes a little trial-and-error to get it right, so be patient, as it might take a few tries to get an image that you’re happy with.
Next is the flash, which you’ll use to illuminate the foreground of your pictures. Because you are photographing during daylight, you’ll be using a fast shutter. I typically used a shutter speed between 1/500 and 1/4000, just depending on the picture, which would be a problem for most cameras when combined with flash photography, but on the X100V it’s no problem whatsoever. You see, the X100V’s mechanical shutter is a leaf shutter, which means that you can use the flash at high shutter speeds (something that you cannot do with a focal plane shutter). The X100V’s built-in fill-flash does marginally work for this, but I got much better results when using the EF-X500 shoe-mount flash. I taped a DIY yellow “gel” (plastic that I cut off of a pear bag that was semi-transparent and yellow) to the flash to make the foreground warmer.
White balance is the third key to this trick. While it varies depending on the exact light, I found that 2500K with a shift of +5 Red and +9 Blue produced good results. Basically, you’ll want the white balance to be very cool, and you’ll need it to be 3200K at the warmest, which will likely will be a tad too warm.
Here are some examples comparing pictures shot normal and pictures shot with this faux blue hour trick:
The difference is huge! The normal daylight and the faux blue hour versions of the pictures above look dramatically dissimilar from each other, even though they were captured only seconds apart. This little trick produces convincing results!
The settings that I used for most of my faux blue hour pictures are:
Dynamic Range: DR400
Highlight: -1 to +1
Shadow: -2 to 0
Color: -2 to +2
Noise Reduction: -4
Color Chrome Effect: Off
Color Chrome Effect Blue: Strong
Grain: Weak, Large
White Balance: 2500K, +5 Red & +9 Blue
Flash: On, with yellow “gel”
Exposure: -3 2/3 to -4 1/3 (typically)
This isn’t a film simulation recipe, so I didn’t strictly stick with one set of settings, but instead looked at each exposure individually. Still, all of my faux blue hour pictures had similar settings, and I didn’t stray very far from it.
Even though this technique is a great way to achieve a blue hour look, there are some limitations. First, you might have shadows that don’t make sense for an after-sunset image. Second, there won’t be any lights on, such as streetlamps, car lights and indoor lights, which you’d expect to find after dark. If you want to use a slow shutter speed, you’ll need to activate the built-in ND filter, but you won’t likely get it to be as slow as you would if it were actually twilight. While the shoe-mounted flash does a decent job of lighting the foreground, you’d likely get even better results if you used strobes or off-camera flashes, but that further complicates the situation.
Despite the limitations, the technique of underexposure, warm flash, and cool white balance makes for convincing blue hour images in daylight conditions. While these settings are intended for the Fujifilm X100V, they can be applied to any camera with a leaf shutter—because of the fast shutter speeds you’ll be using, the leaf shutter is the real key to this trick. Below are out-of-camera JPEGs made using this faux blue hour technique on my X100V camera during daylight.
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