Exercise 2.9 A Night Portrait

Brief: Photographing at night represents a challenge for the photographer, particularly for making portraits. The low light means either having to increase the ISO, which could introduce grain to the image, or using long exposures that will cause blur. Most photographers would use flash carefully balanced with 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. 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 portrait. But also use flash, high ISO and street lights, aim to create three finished photographs, although you’ll need to make many more than that to ensure success.


I will begin with my final three developed photos and then talk through six photos that demonstrate my learning in relation to the techniques.

Exercise 2.9 A Night PortraitAbove – Not a full length photo, but I like how the light from the iPhone has lit up Nicks face. Developing was completed using the Lightroom adjustment brush to reduce the light reflecting from the phone onto Nicks hand, a quick export to Photoshop meant that I could reduce the red light that was behind his head, reflecting from a phone charger which was plugged into the far wall.

Exercise 2.9 A Night PortraitAbove – The two lights provide a little hint that the guitar player was in the street, and I have reduced their exposure slightly. He was under-exposed so I have increased the exposure upon him, again using the adjustment brush.

Exercise 2.9 A Night Portrait

Above – The movement in the lights of the tree and the players hands are effective, although the movement in his face makes this a poor photo. However I like the background being more visible in this photo. It was taken at 1/3 sec, F9, ISO 320 and with flash. I wanted to include some of the background and had experimented with shutter speed and aperture to get the result close to what I wanted (the PDF of all of the photos that I took can be seen here). I have slightly decreased the background and foreground exposure.

EXIF Data – Left – ISO 320, 1/80, F4.5 – Right – ISO 320, 1/80, F5.6 – Both shots made use of built-in flash – The aperture is the important factor here. The wider F4.5 means that there is more light in the foreground, and I think that this makes it clear that the flash was used. The background appears similarly visible in both photos, although the exposure on the guitar player has decreased with the change in aperture.


EXIF data – Left – ISO 320, 1/3, F9 – Right – ISO 320, 1/100, F7.1 – Both shots made use of built-in flash – The longer exposure on the left photo captures movement, and combined with the aperture allows for background light. This means that we can see some of the buildings across the other side of the river. Although I widened the aperture for the second photo, the large change in shutter speed has removed the majority of the background light. This has the effect of highlighting the guitar player. It evidences that a photographer needs to be aware of how they want to make their image, and that it’s not simply that a wider aperture means more background light. Aperture and shutter speed (along with ISO) work together as a triangle to make an exposure. The guy was kind enough to let me take many photos of him so that I could try out different settings.


EXIF data – Left – ISO 640, 1/50, F1.8 – Right – ISO 200, 4, F2.2 – Both – no flash was fired – The ISO is related to how quickly the camera sensor responds to the light that hits it. The digital calibration is based upon traditional 35mm film, where an ISO of 100 reacted more slowly to light. This meant that the light would have to rest upon it for longer to get a similar exposure than a higher ISO film. However, the longer the light is on the film, or in this case the sensor, the better the quality of colour and less grain is produced. conversely, the higher the ISO, the faster the reaction to light, but less colour information is connected and more noise (grain) is produced.

The photo on the left has a higher ISO, and despite having a much quicker shutter speed, has captured a lot of the light in the background. A very quick reaction. The second photo makes use of a four second exposure and an ISO of only 200. There is a huge difference in background light collected.

5 Replies to “Exercise 2.9 A Night Portrait”

  1. Good experimentation Richard. And some great photos – I like the normal colors that you have been able to achieve in your night portraits. It was definitely a great learning process. cheers upon completing it successfully. Mastering Speedlight or actually even beginning to understand it is an achievement in itself.

    Liked by 1 person

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