January Mornings: Blue Hour in Rotterdam, 2022
It has become a tradition: on some days in the beginning of the year I set the alarm very early to go on a photo expedition in the blue hour. Very early, in my case that is a quarter to seven. I know for some people that sounds like sleeping in. But for me it’s early enough to be jet lagged for the rest of the day. It’s worth the sacrifice.
The reason for those January expeditions, I’ve explained it before, is the late sunrise. Although the shortest day falls on December 21, the earliest sunset is already on December 12. And the latest sunrise is around the turn of the year. At the beginning of January, the sun in Rotterdam doesn’t rise above the horizon until 8.50. Compare that to the end of June when our star shows its face at a quarter past five.
In reference to the unimaginable time at which you’d have to set the alarm in June, a quarter to seven can be called fairly humane. Reason enough to mingle with the commuters, joggers and dog walkers, hoping to take beautiful pictures of Rotterdam against a colorful cloudy sky. This year I managed to get up this early no less than seven times.
Just like a year ago, the question was to what extent the lockdown would affect the photos. When no lights are on in offices and there is much less traffic because everyone works from home and when the shops and restaurants are closed, the city may become dark and boring, you would think. But it wasn’t that bad. Seeing all the traffic I got the feeling that the government’s advice to work from home was only followed to a very limited extent. The lights in offices were at full brightness everywhere. And the shops and restaurants might have been closed, but often the lights were on there too.
When you walk through Koopgoot (The Shopping Gutter, as this downtown mall is affectionately called) street at 7:30 am during a lockdown and everything is lit up like on a post-pandemic Black Friday, you wonder if those lights ever go out. Are the shop windows still bathed in light at three o’clock in the morning? Anyway, as a concerned Earthling I have my reservations, but as a photographer I love it.
Game of chance
It is difficult to estimate the prospect of a beautiful sunrise the evening before. It is in fact a game of chance with a colorful spectacle as the potential main prize. Partly cloudy, the icon with the cloud and the sun, is in theory the ideal weather forecast that makes my heart beat faster.
A thick cloud cover is disastrous for the colors but a sunrise with a cloudless sky can also be also a bit dull. Ideally, there are enough clouds, of various shapes and sizes, to be nicely lit, with enough space between them for the sun’s rays to shine through.
I thought I had gathered enough experience reading the weather forecasts to set the alarm on the right days, but this year was not going well. The foreseen partly cloudy scenario rarely materialized. Occasionally there were not enough clouds, usually there were too many. We didn’t see the sun very often in January. And also it was foggy for days on end.
Of course, it is possible to take beautiful city photos in cloudy or foggy circumstances, especially in the blue hour. But that’s not what I set the alarm for.
Conversely, it also happened three times that the weathermen (m/f) predicted the aforementioned thick cloud cover which made me decide to not set the alarm, to find out the next morning that I had missed the sunrise of the year. Imagine looking outside at half past eight and seeing this…
Next year I will therefore completely ignore the weather sites. I’ll plan a few random dates long in advance and then just go for it, rain or shine. Let’s see how that turns out.
Luckily, I finally got that beautiful picture of Rotterdam against a colorful cloudy sky, one morning when I no longer counted on it. A broad band of clouds blocked the eastern horizon, but was all of a sudden unexpectedly beautifully illuminated by the sun, which rose a little more south-east than I had estimated.