Photographing at night represents a challenge for the photographer, particularly for making portraits. The low light means either having to increase ISO, which could introduce grain to the image or using long exposures that will cause blur. Most photographers would use flash carefully balanced with any ambient light and a slight increase in ISO. Here, you’ll use all the methods at your disposal: high ISO (3200 and beyond), flash and long exposure.
Exercise Brief: photograph a model of your choice. You’ll need a tripod for the long exposures. And your model will have to stand as still as possible. Exposures can be several minutes long so there’s bound to be some blur, but this can be visually effective in itself. Make a full-length figure portrait, like the one below. But also use flash, high ISO and street lights, aim to create three finished night photographs, although you’ll need to make many more exposures than that to ensure success. To prepare for this project, have a look at Weegee’s night photos (museum.icp.org/ museum/collections/special/weegee).
The four images below are the ones I chose from the numerous that experimented with. They are a mix of high ISO in ambient light, use of flash with no ambient light, long exposure in ambient light and low ISO as well.
I have never really used a flash/speed light earlier though I have worked a lot in the wild with high ISO. I experimented a lot with flash before I attempted this exercise. Never having worked with a Speedlight earlier, I must admit it does appear to be daunting. I can still work with studio strobes but a speed light is just way too technical for me to understand it completely. This fear led me to research and experiment a lot on this subject before I attempted the previous exercise – Fill Flash.
Below are the contact sheets of the numerous images I made, using different settings of the flash to play with the outcome in terms of darkness/light – changes in the background from being completely dark to be visible.
As with most of the exercises in Part 2, a lot of research along with experimentation led to some great new learnings. I enjoyed experimenting with flash and am now confident to make a night portrait under various situations. Different techniques resulted in different outcomes. I think that was the motive behind this exercise – to be able to figure out various techniques or a combination of techniques to make a successful night portrait.
Looking at Weegee’s work was inspiring. I think my inspiration for assignment 2, subconsciously came from him. Although real images, the style of the images appear to be so dramatic and staged even. I guess the stark contrast that the night offers is extremely thrilling and a lot that can be done which is dramatic and exciting. After having experimented with this exercise, I get a lot of ideas for implementing this learning in future assignments.
What was really useful was the numerous tutorials and references that I found on the web. Sometimes things appear to be simple but once you get down to experimenting them in practice it’s a different ball game altogether. But practising it out definitely worked out for me and I look forward to using the learnings in future assignments and projects.
References fill flash/night photography: