How to add flash to your shot to create portraits at night

Feb 5, 2021

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Feb 5, 2021

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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The night time can produce some wonderful colours, especially when shooting against a city skyline, or even within the city at ground level. The colours from the sky and clouds along with lights on buildings, in windows, signs and displays can make for some very compelling and colourful imagery. But what if you want to shoot portraits against that background?

In this video, photographer David Bergman talks about how we can add flash to our night time shots and mix them in with the ambient exposure to produce some great night portraits.

You can, of course, shoot portraits at night without flash, although you’ll probably want your subject to learn how to be a perfect statue for at least a few seconds at a time. And even for a few seconds, nobody’s that still. And even if they were, to build up enough exposure on your subject, you’re probably blowing out the background to get them to the right level anyway. Or, you’ll need to have them standing very close to bright light sources in the scene – which often isn’t possible.

Gear-wise, you don’t really need anything special to shoot portraits at night. Any DSLR or mirrorless camera and whatever lens you normally use to shoot portraits will work fine. First, without flash, you just need to get a good exposure to produce some nice colour in the background of the scene. You don’t want lights blowing out to pure white, but actually offering some good, saturated colour in your image.

Your subject will likely be a silhouette at this point, but that’s where your flash comes into play. Just position it where you want it to give some nice flattering light and then adjust the power until you get a good amount on your subject to balance them out against the environment without changing your camera’s exposure settings and you’re all set. There are some potential issues with ghosting if your shutter speed gets too slow, but David talks about that in the video, too.

A fairly straightforward technique, but an effective one. It’s well worth a watch of David’s video if you’ve been wondering how you can shoot some good night time portraits.

Do you shoot portraits at night? Do you use flash for them?

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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