Night Outdoor Portraits Using Only Available Light

Shooting in low light situations using available light only is always a tricky business. In such cases you rely on a fast lens and a good camera with a larger sensor, good high ISO noise control and better dynamic range to be able to get more details out of inconvenient shadow areas you cannot avoid having when unable to manipulate the light source.  My previous post was about using small roof windows in dark attics to achieve chiaroscuro effects by highlighting the subject with the ray of sunlight form the window and thus isolating it from the background, which remains pitch dark. By applying this technique, you can also avoid using high ISO settings that can generate a lot of noise, especially if you have a lower end camera, as I do.  When shooting outdoors at night, you can get somewhat similar effects with the lights in a park or any area where you have little or no lights in the background, such as neon signs, street lights, headlights from the cars passing by, traffic lights, etc. Of course, these background lights can create nice bokeh effects, which makes the night photography in urban settings exciting in general. So if you want to shoot on a street you will need a strong light source to highlight your subject, but not too strong, because it may dim the background lights. Note that the overhead lights generate strong shadows in the eyes area, so you need to pose the subject accordingly. Otherwise you will be forced to recover the details from the shadows in post-processing, which can be a drag if you do not own a camera with high dynamic range capabilities. This photo of lovely Iva posing under the neon lights outside of the local green marked building was taken with my Canon 50mm 1.8, the aperture wide open, ISO at 400 and shutter speed at 1/100. The traffic was not dense at the time so I was able to capture just a few headlights and street lights in the background.

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