Why so early? – Photographing the “Blue Hour”

I was asked the other day “why do i go out so early before sunrise” when photographing landscapes. Well, it was a simple question which i though deserved a little blog post to enlighten those not in the know.

ISO100 27mm f/13 90s Exactly 1 hour before sunrise

ISO100 27mm f/13 90s
Exactly 1 hour before sunrise

The blue hour is a term closely linked to the other term “The golden Hour” and together they represent the hour of light before sunrise and the hour of light after sunrise and conversely the hours before and after sunset. The light produced during these periods goes through some dramatic changes from soft blue hues to the warmer tones of orange and reds. The quality and direction of this light can make or break your photographs. The light and the quality of light at this time of day changes very fast so you need to be on location set up and ready in eager anticipation. Obviously it helps to know your location in advance because it will be very dark before you get those first hints of dawn light, there’s no point being witness to the most magical display of light yet not being on location with a shot composed because of poor planning/timing.

Many people never witness this wonderful display that nature puts on for us, especially in the summer months as the sunrise times are so bloomin early. There is something very calming and mesmerising while watching the light change before you, its very easy to become subdued by it and forget why you were there in the first place – to take some photographs of it, lol. Don’t get me wrong though, there have been many a mornings outing where there was nothing but a flat overcast sky after a 3 hour drive at sillyO’clock, the weather forecasts aren’t always accurate, so, you have to work with what you are given – nobody said this game was easy, its all part of the attraction, for me anyway.

I’ll leave you with a series of images that were all taken in the same location, Saltwick Bay near Whitby on the North Yorkshire coast and all within the hour leading up to sunrise. It gives you visual representation of how the light changes so fast – i hope you like them.

Please feel free top leave a comment and share this blog post if you found it interesting/useful. You can keep up to date with more of my image making and photographic exploits on my website or my Facebook page. Many thanks – Rob.

ISO100 24mm f/18 86sec

ISO100 24mm f/18 86sec

ISO100 24mm f/16 15 sec Even with a wider aperture the exposure time on this image has been drastically reduced showing how quick the light is changing.

ISO100 24mm f/16 15 sec
Even with a wider aperture the exposure time on this image has been drastically reduced showing how quick the light is changing.

ISO100 32mm f/16 6 sec

ISO100 32mm f/16 6 sec

ISO100 24mm f/13 3.2sec

ISO100 24mm f/13 3.2sec

ISO100 24mm f/18 5sec

ISO100 24mm f/18 5sec

ISO100 24mm f/13 0.8sec

ISO100 24mm f/13 0.8sec

ISO100 24mm f/13 0.4 sec

ISO100 24mm f/13 0.4 sec

ISO100 24mm f/22 1.3sec

ISO100 24mm f/22 1.3sec

My guide to Saltwick Bay

The three Icons of Saltwick Bay

Saltwick bay is a little gem of a location on the North Yorkshire coast, situated just south of the fishing port of Whitby.  It offers an abundance of photographic opportunities that are all compacted into a relatively small area.

The bay consists of a small sandy beach surrounded by high cliffs and flanked on either side by flat shale shelves. These shelves hold two local icons, ‘Saltwick Nab’ and the probably more well known, ‘Black Nab’.

Black Nab viewed from the beach

The ‘Black Nab’ is situated on the southern shelf.  It has a distinctive shape similar to that of a submarine coning tower and close to the base of this can be found the remains of the ‘Admiral Von Tromp’, a Scarborough based fishing trawler that ran aground in 1976 with the sad loss of two lives.  There is an abundance of rocks in this area that offer interesting abstract compositions and you may also find ammonite fossils which this area is also famous for.

The 'Whale shaped' Saltwick Nab

On the northern shelf you will find ‘Saltwick Nab’, a somewhat ‘breeching whale’ shaped rock prominence again surrounded by a shale shelf offering similar textured rocks, some of which have very bizarre patterns and deep grooves that seem almost unreal.

One of many abstract composition opportunities

The Bay has another trump card up its sleeve though.  The fact that it is North East facing makes it a very unique location because in the height of summer you can capture the sun rising and setting over the sea, quite novel considering you are on the east coast.

So, you could literaly spend all day here from dawn to dusk, tide permitting.  Talking of which the location really need to be photographed with a falling tide, there is little beach available at high tide, and to get close to the ‘Back Nab’ and wreck site you need the tide to be almost at low water.  Do not photograph the shelves or nabs on a rising tide, there is a real danger of being cut off by the tide.  I use the tide tables here http://www.pol.ac.uk/ntslf/tides/?port=0174 but always consult your usual reliable tidal references.

Now, how to get there.  The bay is located from Hawksker Lane which is the road that takes you to Whitby Abbey.  From there turn left up the lane to Whitby Holiday Park and then park in the layby by the park entrance.  To get down to the bay walk along the cliff top towards the holiday park and you will come across the path that leads down to the bay.  This path can be quite muddy and slippery in places especially after wet weather so take care and wear good suitable footware.

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