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Norwegian Blues

by Mike

10 March 2015 • Twilight photography, it is one of my passions. Last week’s trip to Northern Norway made me a happy photographer, and not only because of the Northern Lights. I got the blues too.

I got the blues, literally. The so-called blue hour is the period of twilight each morning and evening. The more north you go, the longer you will have a predominantly blue hue between day and night. The phenomenon is a tremendous gift to photographers, because it really adds a certain atmosphere to pictures, especially in combination with artificial light. Twilight pictures are often much more interesting than nighttime images.

Tromsø CathedralHurtigruten's NORDNORGE, with white smoke

Besides the esthetic aspect there is a photo-technical advantage too: during the blue hour there is a natural balance between electric lighting and the natural blue light.

Look at the picture of NORDNORGE’s interior below. It was just so easy to take this picture, because the balance between interior and exterior was perfect. Imagine taking this picture on a sunny day. On automatic exposure you would either have a burnt out window, or underexposed people. 

Taking this picture on the right time also was essential to give the perfect rendering of the emotion on that very moment: people are enjoying a peaceful sailing, perhaps after a busy day ashore. The warm colour tones suggest comfort, in contrast to the cold at sea.

Vardø, Norway's easternmost town.NORDNORGE, unloading in Vardø.In July 2012 Vardø saw several of its abandoned buildings being painted by artists from all over the World, during the Komafest street festival.

White balance settings are very important. If you leave your camera to decide for you ("automatic white balance"), you might loose a lot of the character of the light. Look at the pictures below. The blue picture on the left was really how it was. Night was falling and me and my fellow passengers had the impression to watch the scenery through blue glasses.

For this picture I put my white balance on "sunny". Look what happens (on the right) if I put WB on "automatic". The picture is reduced to a snapshot on one of these dull days with indeed, fifty shades of grey.

Of course opinions can vary. The best solution is to shoot your pictures in RAW, if you have the software and knowledge to handle the images afterwards (and if your camera allows for RAW).

RAW images will accept any setting afterwards. The main difference between JPEG and RAW is that with the first your camera is the boss. Your camera's processor will decide for you. With the latter you have full control, just like with an analogue negative in the good old days of the darkroom.

So, if you shoot in JPEG, make several shots with different white balance settings.

In RAW it doesn't really matter because you can change afterwards. But it helps to make the picture as you want it. The less post-processing, the better.

A touch of pink as the sun slowly rises.

Tip for sunrises and sunsets: do not set on auto white balance, for the same reason. Probably my camera would have seen this image as too magenta and too blue, removing the essential content.

It' a good idea in these situations to put the WB on sunny or cloudy (the latter if you really want a warmer image).

These photos were taken during a February photo cruise on Hurtigruten's NORDNORGE. In cooperation with Belgian tour operator Nordic I was the tour leader of a group of 22 avid photographers.

Mike