Streets lit by neon lights are an interesting, but challenging environment for shooting portraits. You may struggle to focus your images and keep them sharp. In this video, Rachel and Daniel of Mango Street will give you some tips for nailing night portraits and getting the best out of your shots both in camera and later in post.
1. Finding the light
When shooting outdoors in low light, start by finding the right light. Ideally, you want to have some lights behind the model to give you some hair light and help you separate the subject from the background. You also, of course, need the light source to lighten the model’s face. You can add some colored cellophane to your phone’s flashlight for an affordable colored fill light. But you can also bring a light source such as Pixelstick. It lets you change the light color so you can get the popular neon look, in case you like it.
2. Slow your shutter speed
A general rule of thumb when shooting handheld is to use a shutter speed the same number or faster than your lens’ focal length. For example, if you’re shooting with a 50mm lens, the shutter speed shouldn’t be slower than 1/50. If you have a crop sensor camera, use the 35mm equivalent. So, in this case, the shutter speed with a 50mm lens should be 1/80s.
Needless to say, have your subject stand as still as possible and hold your camera as still as possible. Or better yet, use a tripod to stabilize your shots. In case you have a fast lens, this is the time to use it.
3. Nailing your focus
If you tend to use autofocus on your camera, you’ve probably noticed that it sometimes struggles in low light. When this happens, try lighting your subject with a flashlight and then let your camera focus. When the AF does its work, turn off the flashlight and fire away.
Editing low light photos can generally take some extra time. Daniel gives a couple of quick tips for editing low light portraits:
-Lift the highlights to brighten up your subject’s face without losing detail.
-If your lens vignettes a lot, turn on the Profile Corrections because it will also help brighten up your photos.
-If the darker areas of your images get noisy, add a graduated filter with the noise parameter cranked up. Daniel rather does this than applying noise reduction to the entire image, because this way the subject stays sharp enough. You can also lift the luminance of the background and the face a little bit.
Here are a couple of examples from Daniel and Rachel:
[How to Take Better Photos in Low Light | Mango Street]