Can’t have the best of both worlds? Lesson on how to shoot clear night + portrait photography!
There must be plenty of night views or views with neon lights and such that you’d what to photograph during your travels. Although night photography can be done rather simply by setting a longer exposure time when using a DSLR, if you want to include a person in the shot… that would require some skill. The attraction this time is the Gundam statue in the “DiverCity Tokyo Plaza” in Japan, this 1:1 Gundam model that looks better at night (because of the lights) is not that difficult to shoot on its own, but proves to be much harder when you want to include a person in the shot. So this will be our example today. Why is it difficult to include a person in the shot? Because the Gundam square is a very very dark and small park, aside from the Gundam itself that is bright, everything around it is as dark as it gets. Therefore if you adjust the exposure setting according to how you could capture the Gundam clearly, the person in the photo you get will come out dark like this. But what if you extend the exposure time to brighten up the person? Then the Gundam will be overexposed! Therefore night photography with a brighter background like this can prove to be quite challenging, but as long as you have an on-top camera flash, the problem will be easy to solve! If you are using series such as the Sony A7R or Canon 5D that does not have an equipped flash… then remember to bring a mini speedlight in your bag with you. That way you can have it by your side whenever you need to use it outside. The example image is shot using a 35mm lens, the camera placement will be brought up in the end, it’s placed in a spot that can shoot the person from waist up + taking in the entire Gundam statue. The image above is used to explain the “aperture problem”, I have the aperture set at f22 for this photoshoot, because if the aperture is any larger than this, then while the focus in on me, the Gundam behind will be dropped out of the depth of field and become blurry, therefore shrinking the aperture is a must! Note: Regarding the depth of field problem, please see:【Understand the DOF scales and hyperfocal distance, manual focus will be made simple.】 Don’t need to care too much about the brightness of the person in the screen (because the person relies on the speedlight to fill in the brightness) Since the aperture is set on a very small value, the shutter time will need to be extended. Take for example this shot, when I have the setting on f22, the ISO needs to be adjusted to 1600 in order for the shutter speed to be less than a second. If your camera can’t meter or focus properly in settings such as this Gundam square, then go straight for the LiveView mode to get a preview! As for the flash, I directly adjusted the setting of the on-top camera flash to M mode. This is because if I let the camera use its TTL setting, the Gundam’s brightness itself will often affect the camera’s judgment, causing the flash to not deliver a correct output. Due to the dark location, small aperture and the low built-in output of the on-top camera flash, I chose to directly set the flash to full output for this shot, you can go try it for yourself. Note: For speedlight settings please see: 【Dedicated to new photography fans, three key methods for the operation of Speedlights】 After finalising the setting and focus, you can snap a photo of yourself with the self-timer mode! The above image is the result of using the on-top camera flash, although the skin colour isn’t rendered nicely due to the direct flash, compared to the shots where the person’s either too dark or the background is overexposed, a travel photo like this can already be considered quite decent. At least you got a clear shot together with Gundam. Furthermore, don’t worry about the long exposure time (the image above was one second) causing the portrait to become blurred. Since the location is dark, the on-top camera flash will already be able to produce a “frame freezing” effect, therefore unless your exposure time is even longer than that (over one second), and you can’t stop yourself from moving, then just the flash alone would be able to freeze your image for you. When metering, just focus on the Gundam, don’t worry about the lighting of the portion of the portrait. As for where you should place your camera? Remember the beam of light in the picture above, just place your camera on that spot and use a 35mm lens, you will be able to get the waist up portrait + the whole Gundam in one shot like in the example. Just remember to decrease the aperture size, unless you want a blurry Gundam in your final picture. If you are interested in our articles, you can also LIKE our page:)