Do you find night portrait photography to be incredibly challenging?
Low light photography is a challenge to photographers of all kinds. High ISO and digital noise, blurry shots, and poor lighting form the major issues that have bothered photographers for decades.
Night portrait photography is an opportunity to experiment and create unique photos, but it’s crucial to be prepared and know how to set your camera correctly to take advantage of the low light conditions instead of being limited by it.
This article will talk about some tips you can follow to take your night portrait portraiture to the next level!
Related: The Best Lens For Portraits
What Gear to Use for Night Portrait Photography
Night Portrait Photography Camera
To improve your night portraiture, the most important feature of your camera must be good low light performance. Sensor performance and autofocus capabilities are key when it comes to low light portrait photography.
The camera must have lower noise levels even at higher ISO settings. A good sensor is also important to capture as many details as possible in low light conditions.
A higher megapixel count does make a difference and can pick out more details. But even a camera with good image stabilization can make it up for a smaller sensor allowing you to shoot longer exposures.
Obviously, with a bigger sensor, post-processing becomes easier since your photos retain more color and light information. Remember to always shoot in RAW. Of course, the downfall is that higher MP means bigger file sizes, which in turn means you need larger SD cards and spend a bit more money on your camera body.
If you are looking for a great camera for night portrait photography the Canon EOS Rebel T7i is now selling like crazy. The price for this camera is unbelievably low for the quality it offers. It also comes with an 18-55mm kit lens or you can buy the body only if you want to invest in a better lens. But for such a little difference I would get the kit lens too.
- Sensor: 24.2 Megapixel (APS-C)
- Continuous shooting: 60 fps
- ISO: 100 – 25600
Night Portrait Photography Lenses
The lens is the other crucial element in night time photography. Ideally, you must look for lenses with an f/stop of 2.8 or lower. A wide aperture is great in order to have adequate exposure and without having to use slow shutter speeds. In low light conditions, exposure is critical, to allow for the maximum amount of light into the camera.
Related: The Best Lens For Portraits
Additionally, the wide aperture allows for a shallower depth of field. Nighttime lighting can allow for some beautiful bokeh effects, which are easier to capture with wider apertures.
As you would expect, the more expensive prime and high-end lenses offer superior quality. Prime lenses are the fastest and most reliable and are ideal for night time shots.
Prime lenses are usually better than zoom since they offer sharper images. Of course, the downside of having to psychically move to get closer to subjects is something you must consider.
Another factor to consider when it comes to buying a prime lens is its price. They offer greater quality but can cost considerably more than a zoom lens, especially if you consider lenses for full-frame camera bodies.
If you are also looking to upgrade from a kit lens. The best option for night portraiture at a really good price is the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4. It’s perfect for the Canon EOS Rebel T7i and all Canon EF mount bodies.
Considering a crop factor of 1.6x due to the APS-C format, with the 50mm focal length you’ll get an 80mm full-frame equivalent which is ideal for portraits and help you obtain a shallow depth of field.
- Focal length: 50mm (consider APS-C crop factor of 1.6x so it’s equivalent to an 80mm full-frame)
- Max aperture: f/1.4 for sharp shots in low light
- Filter thread: 58mm
Related: The Best Lens For Portraits
As you would expect, carry a few strobes or flashlights to light up your subject in absolutely dark conditions. You’ll have to find light sources that are battery-powered. Having a tripod with you is also great, and can help you take advantage of long exposures.
Camera Settings for Night Portrait Photography
Set to Av Mode
Shooting in aperture priority or Av mode is ideal. If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I usually don’t suggest shooting in full manual mode.
With aperture priority mode you will set the aperture and the camera will take care of the shutter speed. Depending on the lighting conditions you might need to use the widest aperture possible on your camera to have a fast shutter speed and keep the ISO as low as possible
Narrow apertures allow less light to be captured and require longer exposure time. This increases the chance of blurry shots. If you are using narrower apertures in low light, make sure to use a tripod.
If you aren’t using a tripod, increase the ISO manually, but make sure you don’t rely too much on it. At higher ISO values your images will have considerable amounts of digital noise. So, as always, you have to find the right balance to avoid compromising the quality of your night portraits.
The rule of thumb with handheld photography is that the shutter speed must be the reciprocal of the focal length. Just ensure that you set the ISO manually, and don’t use auto ISO.
How to Light Your Subject (don’t overexpose)
Lighting the subject is tricky with night time portraits. You can either use then natural light that is available, or you can use artificial lights. both have their pros and cons.
Using available light is what you must expect in the worst case. Always take some lighting gear along with you just in case. You must ensure that your lights are all battery operated since you cannot expect to have outlets during outdoor portraits.
One of the biggest mistakes that portrait photographers do is overexposing their photos by using too much light. This makes the shots look washed out and uninteresting. The great part of night portraits is the element of mystery. You must capitalize on it. If you use a flashlight or a strobe to get the focus right, remember to remove it before taking your shot. This avoids the problem of overexposed photos.
Background Tips for Night Portrait Photography
Taking the Shot
You must first decide how much of the shot you want in focus. Using wide apertures will cause the background to go out of focus. You need to have a low ISO, such as between 400 and 800. Also, you can use low power flash at a 1/16 or 1/32 setting. Test the shot out. If your subject is too illuminated, turn it down, and if they’re not easily seen, turn it up. Lower the shutter speed to see a little more of the background. When you’re happy with the dark background and how it looks, you are ready to take photos.
Your background can be a street, a bridge, or even an interesting looking building. Try to look for a place with a lot of lights. Decorative and neon lights are great for night portraits and give a unique touch to your photograph. This allows you to use a shallow depth of field for some incredible out of focus portraits.
Eliminate Digital Noise While Post-Processing
Even with the best equipment and techniques, you will find that some noise will invariably make its way into your nighttime portrait shots. Post-processing can really help out in this regard.
A lot of noise may actually add to your photo and make it look good. A reasonable amount, however, is something you must eliminate.
Making your photo monochrome can give it a wonderful film-like grain element. The prominent noise highlights the scene and gives the photo character.
Here are the steps to eliminate noise in two popular photo editing tools.
Step 1: Import the photo into Lightroom.|
Step 2: Click on ‘Develop’ on the upper right corner to bring up the Develop module.
Step 3: On the panel to the right, look for one named Details. Inside, you can find several sliders to reduce the noise. Adjust them until you are happy with the result. Use the Clarity and Sharpness sliders in particular to improve the quality of your image.
Step 4: Export the photo
Step 1: Open the image using Photoshop.
Step 2: Go to the upper right side of the screen and select Filter. Then choose Noise and Reduce Noise. you can turn this is into a Photoshop Action to bring this up quickly.
Step 3: Use the various sliders to obtain the desired effect
Step 4: When you are happy with the result, save the image.
Now that you have a fairly good understanding of night time portrait photography, give these tips and methods a try! The only way you can get better with night time portraits is to just go out there, and keep trying until you’ve figured out what works best for you!
Stefano Caioni is a photographer from Sydney, Australia. Founder and editor of Pixinfocus, his passion for photography helps him explore new places and live new adventures. Thanks to photography he reconnected with the outdoors and was able to travel the world and take photos of some of the most beautiful places on Earth.