Blue Hour at the Tabletops (4 photos)

I hadn’t been to South Cardiff State Beach and the tide pools of Tabletop Reef in quite a while. Or rather, the coast in general. It had been 6 weeks, and I began to feel a certain longing for the ocean. I thought that’s interesting – I lived in Germany for 40 years, and I’ve been on “beach vacations” in Italy, Greece and Turkey in the past, but I never felt that I actually missed the ocean.

Maybe it’s living here, having access to the ocean (almost) whenever I want, that somehow made it a part of my life that I can actually miss now. But then again, we live about half an hour inland and I don’t even see the ocean from our home… which is actually interesting too, because the conditions often differ vastly, especially at this time of the year.

When I left home for an evening walk with Toni and camera at the usual beach, the sky was all clear. At the coast though, the marine layer had already pushed in well before sunset, so it was grey, gloomy and overcast, and cold. And of course there was no colorful sunset.

But I was able to satisfy my longing for the ocean, and found myself at the tide pools right after sunset, a bit later than I had anticipated. At this time of the year, sunset is just at the right time to be in the way of a normal routine – it’s either an early dinner right, or a late dinner. :-)

But no matter what time the sunset is, the time after sunset is known as the “blue hour” among photographers, and I wanted to get and show these blue hour colors in my photos. And how these colors came to be I explain below the gallery.

Tech Notes

There’s something that gets in the way of the blue hour: automatic white balance (auto WB, AWB). Now my struggle with color rendition of digital photos comes and goes in phases anyway, and right now I’m having such a phase again. I’m bored with auto white balance, the neutral color it tries to achieve, and the mistakes this primitive algorithm makes in trying to do so.

Just point the camera at something rather monochromatic, very green or very blue or very yellow, and watch it fail, quite reliably. The problem is that these are everyday situations – a forest is very green, twilight is very blue, the golden hour is very… yellow. Sunrise, sunset, twilight are the preferred times for landscape photographers to make photos though – and those are the situations where auto white balance is most likely to fail, and results in a quite inaccurate rendition of how we perceive the light, even with our “human auto white balance” (yes we have that, and it’s even more complicated – may I remind you of the dress that is blue and black or white and gold?)

To counter the randomness of auto white balance, I had set my camera’s white balance manually to daylight (which is represented with a little sun symbol, and equals roughly 5000K) for a couple of days. But then of course I found that I’m missing what the camera would have done via its auto white balance, as a reference – sometimes you want neutral colors… and Lightroom’s “auto” algorithm results in different colors than the camera’s auto WB, of course. :-}

So I switched the camera back to auto white balance, and instead configured Lightroom to a default color temperature that equals the camera’s “daylight” setting (5050/+8), by setting a new Default setting (in Develop/ So I see the “daylight” color temperature after I import the photos, but I can switch to “as shot” in Lightroom and get the camera’s auto WB colors too. Best of both worlds. I guess that sounds complicated now, but it actually isn’t. :-)

And that’s how my blue hour photos actually turned out so blue – they’re simply at a daylight color temperature (one might say, it’s almost like film!;-). Since it was rapidly getting darker, it was getting bluer* still as well, so for the sake of a consistent look I made some adjustments to give the photos a similar appearance… in their blueness. :-)

*) I’m amazed that the spell checker didn’t put a squiggly red line under that word. Bluer looks odder than greener. :-D

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