Shooting portraits at night usually requires a lot of gear. You need your own lighting sources to evenly light the model, otherwise you’re going to end up with harsh shadows and dark faces. But, there are a few tricks to get beautiful, soft light perfect for portraiture without lugging around anything other than your camera. Shutterbug photographer Jordan Matter offers up five easy tips to shoot portraits at night without a flash:
Even if there’s very little light on the street, you can find some great lighting sources. Look for street lights and store windows. But, you have to use the light right. Direct your model and angle them in ways that fully utilize the light and make for flattering portraits.
5 Tips for Using Street Lights for Portraits
1. Look Toward the (Street) Light
You can’t just have your model stand under the street light because then they’ll only be illuminated from above. This will create shadows across the face and really only illuminate the nose.
Get your model to look up towards the light to create nice shadows on the cheekbones and really sculpt the face. Just tilt the chin up a bit; too much will lose the flattering shadow and will look unnatural, and uncomfortable! Focus on the face and keep shooting.
2. Use Storefront Windows as Softboxes
As Matter says, the right storefront window is like a $5000 setup right in the middle of the street that you don’t have to pay a dime for. You can get warm, soft, even portrait lighting just like in a professional studio.
3. Use Lenses with Fast Apertures
You want to use a f/2, f/1.4, f/1.8 lens. Shoot with your back up against the window and have your model look right at you. If you shoot at f/1.8, everything in the background will blur, and you’ll have even, soft lighting on the model’s face.
4. Pay Attention to Clothing Color
If your model is wearing black, that will blend in with the background, which can be a nice, stylistic effect if you want to focus on just the face. But, if you want the clothes to pop more, just have your model wear something brighter.
5. Light from One Side for Rembrandt Lighting
You can get a beautiful, more dramatic portrait with Rembrandt lighting just by having the model stand with one side to the window. Shoot from off to the side as well to light only one side of the face.
Shooting portraits at night doesn’t have to be difficult and time-consuming. These tips will help you get amazing night portraits without a lot of gear, money, or time. You can try these tips out in your own city or town; just look for the right street lighting.
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