How to Take Street Portraits at Night Without a Flash

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.

portrait under street light

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.

portrait lighting at night

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.

nighttime window lighting photo

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.

bright clothing night photography

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.

night portraiture rembrandt lighting

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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2 responses to “How to Take Street Portraits at Night Without a Flash”

  1. Chris Dowd says:

    Great tips thanks Jordan! Vid was short and to the point and let the results speak for themselves. Love your ‘dancers after dark’ series, so I guess that was also just shot using ambient light with high ISO’s to freeze any movement?

  2. aris antoniou says:

    So simple BUT Perfect!

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