landscape, photography, blue hour, tutorial, Gamla Uppsala, Sweden

Tutorial #1
Landscape photography during the blue hour

A photography tutorial on how to take and edit an image during the blue hour.Gear: Canon 60DCanon EF-S 18-135mm IS
Editing tool: Lightroom 5
Level: Beginner

This is the first in a series of several tutorials on photography and digital post-processing using Lightroom and Photoshop. These tutorials will go over several techniques that can be useful to digital photographers.

For these tutorials, I give you access to the original RAW files of the images so that you can follow along the instructions. I will simply ask you to subscribe to my newsletter to receive by e-mail a link to download the files. Also, all the edits are provided as a Lightroom preset  as part of the download. By subscribing to the newsletter, you will be the first to be notified of new articles and tutorials on this website.

If you like this image, you can also consider buying it as a print or canvas in the online store.

Keep in mind that editing a picture is quite a personal process without “right” or “wrong” methods. As a photographer, you are illustrating your vision of the scene, as you may remember or imagine it. Feel free to deviate from the instructions and share your results in the comment box (along with your picture!).

Bonus! Watch below the video posted on my YouTube channel. This is a fun and fast-paced recording of all the edits corresponding to this tutorial.

About the image

For this tutorial, I selected an image that I shot last year at the end of November, on a freezing Saturday morning a few minutes before sunrise in Gamla Uppsala, Sweden. I had arrived on-site about half hour before sunrise to give me time to scout the location and find a good composition. The shot was taken with only basic equipment,  the Canon 60D without a tripod and using my camera’s kit lens (Canon EF-S 18-135mm IS) at its widest angle (18 mm). The original picture, straight-out-of-the-camera, looks like this:

Royal mounds

The composition follows some typical “rules” of photography: rule of third, leading lines, including elements in the foreground/middle ground/background, etc. The image was shot a couple of minutes before sunrise during what is often referred to as the “blue hour”, which is an ideal time for photography when the light is very soft and the sky is colorful (blue/purple).

Hist-1I was experimenting with manual mode but the issue was that the luminosity increases very fast just before sunrise and I constantly needed to adjust the settings of my camera. I ended up with a quite under-exposed image but the histogram did not show any clipping so this is something that can be corrected in post-processing. Since I was not using a tripod, I raised the shutter speed to 1/160th of a second to avoid any blur. This choice of shutter speed is actually not necessary when shooting wide angle handheld, I could have easily decreased the shutter speed to 1/50th without any issue and gained depth-of-field, by closing the aperture, instead.

Basic adjustments

BasicAfter uploading the RAW file to Lightroom and going to the Development module. Let’s start with the Basic adjustments. The white balance (WB) temperature was set to 5850 in-camera, which gives a quite “cold” feel to the image that I actually like except for the sky, but this is something that will be adjusted later.

I boosted the exposure quite a lot (+1.55) to shift the histogram to the center. This process tend to create noise that will need to be decreased in a later step. Highlights (mainly the sky), shadows (nearly anything else in this image), whites and blacks were adjusted according to the screenshot (-100, +83, +60, -7, respectively). The goal here is to distribute the tones across the entire histogram in a balanced way. For landscape photography, this typically means that the luminosity of the sky is decreased while the luminosity of the shadows is increased. This process is quite subjective and how much you move the sliders depends on your own vision of the scene. I encourage you to experiment with them!

Then, I finally added some contrast (+19), clarity (+10) and vibrance (+21) to give some “punch” to the image.

Local adjustments

C&SUsing the “Crop Overlay” feature, the image was straighten (-1, which is strangely  quite typical for me when I shoot handheld…)  but I did not feel the need to crop it. Then, the “Adjustment Brush” and “Graduated Filter” tools were used.

BrushFirst, the brush was used to paint over the entire sky in order to shift its White Balance toward warmer colors (Temp +19) with a touch of magenta (Tint +38). This reveals the gorgeous colors that the sky had when I took the shot but were not faithfully recorded by the camera sensor. The region painted by the brush can be seen on the image below (in red). This is actually very easy to do in Lightroom, without “spilling” outside the region defined by the sky, using the “Auto Mask” feature.

Please, do not move the “Temp” and “Tint” sliders too far to the right as it is quite easy to go overboard and give an unrealistic look to your image.



Second, the “Graduate Filter” tool was used (twice) to “close” the picture by smoothly decreasing the exposure (-0.86) at the top and bottom of the image to lead the viewer’s eyes toward the center. This technique gives a more professional aspect to your images. For landscape, I usually prefer to use this method, rather than the “Post-Crop Vignetting” tool (under the Effects tab).



DetailSkipping a few panels in Lightroom development module, I headed to the “Detail” tool to apply some sharpening and noise reduction. Zoom the image at 100% first, wherever you think the image should be sharp. I typically set the amount of sharpening around +100 to begin with, then use the “Masking” slider (+39) to not sharpen the region that do not have any strong edges (press the Alt key at the same time as moving the slider to visualize these regions).

Going next to the “Noise Reduction” section, the only sliders you should consider for now are “Luminance” and “Color”, which act on the two types of noise that can typically be found in photography. I set these two sliders to +13 and +33, respectively, which reduces the noise to a level  I felt comfortable with.

Lens corrections

Lens CorrectionsThe next panel to consider is the “Lens Corrections” panel where you can correct the image distortion, vignetting and any chromatic aberration created by your lens. Kit lenses are particularly prone to image distortions, in particular when used at the limits of their allowable focal lengths. Fortunately, Lightroom contains a library of corrections to apply for many type of lenses (which are recognized automatically)! These adjustment are very easy to apply and are nearly always part of my workflow. Just check the boxes as shown on the screenshot and you are done. These corrections could be made early on in the editing process if you would like. However, Lightroom may become very slow if you do so (in particular when using the “Adjustment Brush”), depending on the computer that you use. If this is the case, a good advice is to use the “Lens Corrections” tool at the end of your editing workflow.

Final image

Hist-FinalThat’s it! It took a bit of work to recover this under-exposed image but the result is quite nice! The histogram is now well balanced and the image has good contrast and gorgeous colors of twilight in the sky.

More could be done with this image but since this is a first tutorial, specifically addressed to beginners, I will leave it for now.

Royal mounds

And now your turn… Download the original RAW file corresponding to this tutorial and make it look as good as you can, by either following exactly the steps I described, if you are a very beginner, or use your own creativity to make something new! Alternatively, you can use your own image and apply what you have learned in this tutorial. Either way, I would really appreciate if you could share this tutorial and leave a comment, along with your images, at the end of this post or on my Facebook page.

I hope you liked this tutorial. I will be making more of them in the future addressed to beginners but also to more advanced levels. Please let me know if you have any recommendations to make these tutorials as useful as possible to you.


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