Night portrait photography can be extremely challenging, but when done well can produce awesome portraits. The main challenge in night photography is the amount of light available. The trick is to use the ambient light wisely and then add the extra flash or background light. Here are some simple tips to get great night portrait photographs.
While shooting night portrait photographs, select your background very carefully. Avoid completely dark backgrounds as it will give you dull and grainy portraits. Instead, opt for multiple lights in the background. These could be simply street lights or a whole lot of tiny fairy lights that create a magical background. Use these background lights to your advantage to make your subject’s features appear flattering.
Using a flash
When shooting at night, even in a well lit background, the ambient light is not sufficient to get good portraits. You will need a flash to light up the subject’s features evenly. You can play around with the angle of the flash to get completely different expressions and moods. Set the flash at an angle to light up one half of the subject’s face and leave the other half shadowed to give a brooding, intense portrait. Or else, get your subject to face the light directly and you get a warm looking night portrait photograph.
Use speed lights
In addition to a flash to light up the subject’s face, try using speed lights in the background. These can be placed either directly behind the subject or at an angle. These may end up looking like additional background lights but will give you very interesting portraits.
Use a low aperture like about f4 that will give you just enough depth of field to focus on your subject and get the background to look like a lighted blur. Also set your camera to as slow a shutter speed as you need. This will allow best utilization of the ambient light and prevent the background from looking completely dark. You can try anywhere between 1/25 to 1/60. If you are using a hand held camera, the flash will take care of any movement and will freeze your subject in the shot. Zoom in on your subject for best effect.
In night portrait photography, the angle of your subject, the ambient light and the flash are extremely important. Any change in any one of these could make the difference between a dark portrait and a clear focused one. Experiment with the angles while shooting. Get your subject to move around a bit so that you get shots of their face from different angles in relation to the background light and the flash.