How to Improve Your Blue Hour Photos During Photo Editing

As you learned in a previous article, the blue hour is a great time to photograph cities. But the blue hour often lacks dimension and depth in the sky. If you’re lucky, you’ll have some clouds that provide structure. But when you have a clear blue sky, it often appears flat. In this article, I’ll show you a trick you can use to make such a sky more interesting and improve your twilight photos.

If you look at the before and after comparison of an edit I made to a Venice photo, you’ll notice several changes: contrasts have been tweaked, colors have been tweaked, and lights have been enhanced. But there is one other important change. In the before photo, edited in Lightroom and then brought to Photoshop, the sky is quite cloudy. The last image shows a gradient in the sky. It creates more dimension and serves as a vignette, keeping the viewer centered in the frame.

Before I show you how to create this effect in Lightroom and Photoshop, let’s first specify it a little more: What you only see applied to the sky is a radial gradient fill. This definition already has everything you need to know to recreate it.

Blue hour trick in Lightroom

The new masking feature, introduced in Lightroom about a year ago, allows us to create this effect in Lightroom:

  1. Go to the mask tool and click Choose Heaven. It should give you a pretty good range, especially under clear skies.

  2. You can now increase the exposure setting, play with the white balance, and increase or decrease the saturation. These adjustments are made for the entire sky.

  3. To create the gradient effect, you can intersect the sky selection with a radial selection. In the mask area, hover over the plus or minus sign and hold down the Alt key. The plus and minus buttons are replaced with the rectangular intersection button. Press on it and choose Radial Gradient.

  4. Use the radial gradient to create a vignette on the sky.

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These adjustments will help you create the illusion of fading light behind the city. They also increase the contrast between the skyline and the sky. Note that it adds visual weight to this area, so be careful when adding the effect. If you make it too strong, it can distract the viewer’s eye from other important elements in your photo.

Blue hour trick in Photoshop

You can do pretty good work in Lightroom. So why should you use Photoshop? The simple answer is that you have more control over the choices. The AI ​​selection tools have gotten better, but not perfect. In Photoshop, you can tweak this selection. The rest of the workflow is similar to Lightroom as I show in the feature video.

  1. Make a selection for the sky. There are two ways to do this: Make an initial selection with the Magic Wand tool and refine it under Select – Select and mask. If you use one of the Creative Cloud versions of Photoshop, use Choose – sky and refine the selection. Improving a selection in this way is not yet possible in Lightroom.
  2. Create a group and apply a mask to it using the refined sky selection.
  3. As in Lightroom, you can now make changes to the sky. You can either add different adjustment layers to the group or paste a copy of your current edit into the group and go Filters – Camera Raw Filters… You can now apply settings to brighten the image in Lightroom fashion. After pressing OK, these are restricted to the sky area via the group mask.
  4. Grab the Elliptical Marquee Tool and create a large circular marquee that includes parts of the sky. Go to Choose – Modify – Spring or press Shift + F6 and insert a high radius. Depending on the resolution of your photo, you may need to use a value of several hundred pixels.

  5. Apply a mask to the effect layer using the selection. If you have multiple effect layers within the group, you can create a second group within the first group with the adjustments within. Apply the mask to this new group. This stacking of multiple groups is a great way to mix and match different masks.

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Finding the right radius may take a few tries. Alternatively, you can apply a black mask to your adjustment and draw in it with a soft white brush to create the gradient in the sky.


This effect is one of the more subtle changes you can make to your photos, but that doesn’t mean it’s not effective. Very often, a combination of small changes results in a great edit rather than a big adjustment.

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