Linda Poon is a staff writer at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
For just a few minutes a day, the sky cloaks the entire city in a glowing, azure tint.
Most photographers swear by the “golden hour”—the hour just after sunrise, or the one right before sunset, when the lighting is just right. But when Hong Kong-based photographer Romain Jacquet-Lagrèze tried to capture his home at sunset, the light washed out most of the city’s colors.
So he watched the sun go down, and that’s when he discovered that the city really lights up during what he’s dubbed the “blue moment.”
That’s the short period of time when the sun sits right below the horizon, when it is neither day nor night. In his photo series “The Blue Moment,” the sky casts an azure veil over the densely packed landscape of Hong Kong’s Kowloon district. His photos juxtapose blue-drenched high-rises with bright orange lights peeking from windows and glowing from streetlights.
“That time is quite special, because the lights from the city are appearing, and the daylight that turns blue is still strong enough to illuminate the city,” Jacquet-Lagrèze tells CityLab in an email.
The series, which is on display at the Blue Lotus Gallery in Hong Kong and featured in his latest book, took Jacquet-Lagrèze a little over a year to complete. The most time-consuming step, he says, was looking for the perfect locations to showcase the city’s unique architecture. He also waited for clear days—a challenge since Hong Kong’s skyline is often shrouded in fog. When all the elements were in place, he’d take his camera and shoot from atop a tall building or from a hill overlooking the city.
“The actual amount of time for shooting is quite short, since the blue light is only vibrant for a few minutes,” he tells CityLab.
But what Jacquet-Lagrèze catches in his photos is more than just the contrasting light. In some images, he captures the uniformed repetition of Hong Kong’s apartment towers against the lush green tops of the city’s massive hills. In others, the dense chaos of the cityscape stands in stark contrast to the serene river nearby.
Jacquet-Lagrèze is a French fine-art photographer, but most of his projects are shot in Hong Kong, where he approaches the city from different angles to capture scenes often overlooked by tourists. “What inspires me the most in this city is its extreme urban development that looks like a race to the sky,” he tells CityLab. “The topography of the city, full of mountains and islands, leaving not much flat land, has forced the buildings to be all packed in the same areas.”