Exercise 2.9 A night portrait

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.

No ambient light – with flash
Negligible ambient light – with flash
High ISO/Long exposure – No flash/only ambient light
Low ISO – ambient light only

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. ContactSheet-002ContactSheet-003


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:

  1. https://improvephotography.com/flash-photography-basics/
  2. http://www.filmsnotdead.com/a-retrospective-of-weegees-work-1932-1960/
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/gallery/2015/mar/31/the-best-of-weegees-new-york-street-photography-in-pictures
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2012/jan/19/weegee-murder-photographs-pictures-new-york
  5. http://untappedcities.com/2016/05/25/weegees-bowery-of-flophouses-and-drunks-photos-on-exhibit-from-icp/
  6. https://creators.vice.com/en_au/article/xy457k/see-grisly-photos-from-the-godfather-of-crime-scene-photography
  7. https://photography.tutsplus.com/tutorials/quick-tip-how-to-take-great-portrait-photos-at-night–photo-16680
  8. https://photography.tutsplus.com/tutorials/exposure-explained-iso-shutter-speed-and-aperture-for-night-photography–cms-24706
  9. https://photography.tutsplus.com/tutorials/zoom-versus-prime-lenses-for-night-photography–cms-22660
  10. https://photography.tutsplus.com/tutorials/manual-versus-autofocus-lenses-for-night-photography–cms-22273
  11. https://photography.tutsplus.com/tutorials/how-to-set-up-your-digital-slr-for-night-photography–cms-24099
  12. https://photography.tutsplus.com/tutorials/how-to-set-and-control-your-camera-manually-for-night-photography–cms-25179
  13. https://photography.tutsplus.com/articles/observation-visualisation-and-composition-for-night-photography–cms-23589
  14. https://digital-photography-school.com/using-fill-flash/
  15. https://digital-photography-school.com/how-to-mix-ambient-light-and-fill-flash-for-outdoor-portraits/


7 Replies to “Exercise 2.9 A night portrait”

  1. Love it Archna! I too have an extremely underused Speedlite as the instructions seem impenetrable to me. I’m happier with higher ISO and reducing noise in Lightroom.

    Your long exposure photo is very sharp, you must have a very calm model! Kind regards, Andy

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Andy. It is daunting. I don’t blame you. I still have a long way to go before I can say I understand it completely. It is too technical. Thank you Andy. Yes my model was very still. I guess I have shot with her so much that she now trained. Hahah! But if you see in the contact sheets, this was the only image in that series which was clear , rest all were blurred. I feel a lot more confident with the speed light now. Am sure you will have a similar experience. Good luck and thanks Andy .

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Archna.

    Wow, so many different results and all with their own strengths. Flash is something that I find quite daunting. However I can see from your photography here that flash gives more control to the outcome than we get in daylight. 2628 is probably my favourite. The light looks quite natural and focused.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Richard. I agree that it does appear to be daunting. Am sure this exercise will help all of us emerge as a little more confident in using a speed light. But yeah, it is not my most favourite thing in the world. Thank you Richard. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello Archna
    Just catching up with a bit of a backlog! These images are great. Your reference list magnificent and will be a great help as a resource that I will borrow and learn from. Whilst the images using assisted lighting are excellent I like the soft effect of ambient light. Looking back I can see I did not explore on line tutorials sufficiently during the early part of the course. Thank you for your inspiration.


  4. Thank you Sarah! I personally hate the speed light and would prefer ambient light any day. But it has its pros so might as well learn it. Yes the tutorials really helped especially videos where it’s demonstrated the techniques, etc. Please be my guest to use these references for sure. They helped me a great deal. Also I will keep updating the reference lists through this entire part 2. I am still learning a lot of new things but need to pause that for a bit as my assignment is due soon and I need to stop somewhere! 😊 I am really apprehensive about the assignment and I hope I have done justice to it. Will really be nervous for the feedback upon that. I have really worked hard for this part. A lot of referencing, learning new things, experimenting have led me to do this. Fingers crossed. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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