Shooting at night is always a challenge, thanks to the lack of natural light and the many, varied sources of direct and ambient light that a photographer has to balance, but shooting portraiture at night is an even more difficult task. However, night time portraiture can also yield some unique and fascinating results, so let’s take a look at how you can take great portrait photos at night.
Pick a location with interesting ambient light
Unless you’re a professional photographer with an extensive night photography set up and can basically set up a mini studio out on the street, you’ll most likely be relying on your Speedlight or another small flash to light your subject. This flash will be focused on lighting your subject properly, and won’t have enough power to also light your background, so it’s important to pick a location with lots of its own, interesting ambient light.
This can be as simple as an alleyway with streetlights and moonlight fighting it out in the background, or you can find an area with more lighting than you would normally expect–for instance, a sports field with floodlighting or a quadrangle light with a hundred candles. Your ambient light should set a great scene without being distracting, so play around with a few locations to see what works best, and don’t forget to blur your background with a narrow depth of field (a wide aperture). This will also help with lighting.
Getting clothing right
Even if you’re planning on shooting a tightly-framed headshot with almost little or no clothing in the final image, it’s important to have your model wear something that’s going to look decent, even if you can only see the top half of the collar.
Black is the most difficult color (or lack of color, if we’re being technical) to shoot at night, as it absorbs light and therefore tends to get lost in the dark regions of your image. Pale colors and patterns will be easier to work with, although bright white can also be problematic, as this reflects light and may pose an issue with exposure. Have your models bring a number of outfits, and see which work best given your location and flash power.
Balancing ISO and aperture when using flash
Shooting in low light means that you have to do your very best with the light available, and when you’re shooting a live subject like a model, you’ll find that your shutter speed is restricted to something above 1/30 otherwise your photos will be blurred. This means that you’ll have to rely on flash, ISO and aperture to balance both your direct and ambient lights, and if you want a bokeh background, your aperture will be restricted to its widest settings.
This leaves ISO and flash, and unfortunately, many people just dial the ISO settings as high as possible. The higher the ISO, the grainier your photo will be, and though this might look fine at a small size, when you blow up the image, it won’t look so good. Keep your ISO as low as possible, while making sure that your flash doesn’t blow out the image and overexpose your model’s face.
Have you ever experimented with nighttime portrait photography? Upload your pictures to the PicArt photo gallery with the tag #portraiture so that everyone can see your efforts!