Night Portrait Photography: A Complete Guide

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Capturing Night Portraits

How to Shoot Night Portraits

Night portrait photography may be a niche you have been dreaming of exploring. Photographers of all levels often avoid low light photography because they feel it is more difficult and complicated than using natural light during the day.

But there are many ways to produce beautiful low-light portrait photography without a camera shake. This article will explore everything there is to know about night time photography and primarily focusing on portraits in complete darkness or with artificial light and off-camera flashes. Nighttime photography will become your new favorite niche with the help of this article so let’s get started!

nighttime photo of a model on the street.

Camera Settings for Night Portrait photography

Any photographer shooting at night will tell you that if you want good low-light performance, you need a slow shutter speed. But with a slow shutter speed, you are also more likely to produce blurry images.

So make sure you invest in a quality tripod before slowing your shutter speed down to produce more light. For portraits at night, set your camera using these directions. Set your ISO to 800 or above for a high ISO, keeping in mind the higher the ISO, the more noise your photos will produce.

Next, open your aperture as high as it will go; f/2.8 is ideal. Lastly, using a tripod, use a slow shutter speed to let in even more light and capture your subject with the available ambient light. Combining a high ISO, large aperture, and slow shutter speed should give you more control over your final image.

This video is full of great examples and tips on how to shoot at night. Try applying one or all of the tips to your next night shoot.

YouTube video

Manual Focus

Keep in mind for better photos in low light situations, especially for night portraits; you will most likely want to use manual focus.

Many cameras and lenses have a hard time focusing in dark situations. For the desired look and no blurry photos, you need to carefully focus manually on your subject’s face. Make sure to place your focus box on your subject’s eye and carefully focus there first.

AV Mode

For shooting portraits at night, try setting your camera to manual or AV mode. Manual mode gives you the most control over your lighting, and any pro photographer is usually shooting in this mode. But, if you don’t feel comfortable enough to shoot in manual mode quite yet, instead try AV mode, which the camera helps you choose more settings in.

night portrait.

Shoot in RAW

You will most likely have to do a little more editing with night portrait photography. You will notice that the colors in your image seem off or your focus or even a little camera shake. By shooting in RAW, you can adjust all of these things and more, making your images look like a real pro photographer took them.

Long Exposures for Night Portrait Photography

If you want to create a more artistic look, try experimenting with long exposure photos at night. First, set your camera up on a tripod and set your shutter speed extremely low. Then ask your subject to move around while remaining in the frame.

It’s fun to see what results from this type of shutter speed created at night. Another great idea is to have your model stand in front of the city skyline or freeway off in the distance. You will see movement from the cars or have nice ambient light from the city.

Lighting your Subject

Using a fast shutter speed to avoid blurry photos, you will want to have a strong light source placed on or near your subject’s head. Play around with your light source for the best results by having them move in different positions until you get the desired effect. Also, avoid placing the light directly in your subject’s eyes, so they don’t have to squint while you photograph them.

Off-Camera Flash

If you want to avoid a blurry photo, consider using an external or off-camera flash for your next night photography shoot. We recommend investing in a low flash power setup.

This flash fires just enough power to illuminate any subject and can connect to your hot shoe on the camera. When it comes to photography gear, it’s worthwhile to invest in some quality flash and artificial light setups. These flash setups are also battery-operated, so you won’t have to worry about finding a plug while outdoors.

Color Temperature

Be careful with color temperature for night portraits. When you have multiple light sources, the color of your subject’s face can become oddly colored and not look very natural. Instead, we suggest shooting your subject using mainly ambient light on their face. Another option is to choose artificial lights or gels to color your subject correctly.

night portraits color setting.

What Gear to Use for Night Portraiture

Many photographers struggle when it comes to choosing the right gear and lenses for night shoots. Let’s explore some options for gear, so you feel more confident on your next night shoot.

Which Camera is Best for Shooting Night Portraits?

When it comes to choosing a better camera for nighttime photos, look for a camera with a higher megapixel count. Also, consider the crop factor to make sure your lens will work with your camera.

Most cameras today come with a high ISO and megapixel count. But, you still want to pay close attention to what flash will work best with your camera and how high the ISO can go before you start seeing a lot of noise.

Which Lenses are Best for Nighttime Portraits?

Night-time portrait photography requires fast lenses. The lower your aperture setting, the more light your camera will allow to pass through your camera. This is why we highly recommend investing in a prime lens for night portrait work.

You want as much light as possible to be available during portraits at night, and prime lenses give you the best apertures for the best price. Remember, choosing the right gear means choosing a better lens for taking photos at night.

LED panel light.

Use an LED panel

An LED panel is easy to find online and a great tool to add more light to your scene. The wonderful thing about LED panels is they are lightweight. You can also opt for mini LED lights which are easy to throw in your camera bag and shine on your subject for a great natural look.

Try investing in one today to see what a huge difference they make for lighting any subject, no matter how dark the setting is.

Taking Photos without Flash

In our opinion, you can take photos without using a flash at night. Of course, using extra lighting is always useful while shooting portraits at night, but you can also find local ambient light sources such as street lights, buildings, and even car lights. So try leaving your flash at home a few nights and experimenting with local lighting.

Post Processing Night Portraits

If you want the best post-processing results, we recommend using the Adobe Lightroom setup. The step-by-step editing in Lightroom is extremely user-friendly and great for reducing noise and blurriness in your photos.

Take your time adjusting for each image as a pro photographer would. And make sure to save your settings for your next shoot using the same lighting. Follow these steps on Lightroom to get started in reducing high ISO noise:

Step #1: Open your image in Lightroom
Step #2: Click Filter
Step #3: Reduce Noise

You can also use our professional night presets for faster editing in Lightroom.

female portraitprocessed portrait image in lightroom

Background Ideas and Examples

Here are a few backdrop ideas and examples to get your night portraits rolling. Try using these examples on your next night photography outing!


man backlit at night.

Just like during the day, it’s best to put a light source behind your subject’s head for a more dynamic and eye-catching look. Look for any source to act as your backlight, or bring your own LED panel or off-camera flash.

Off-Camera Flash with Rain

night portrait of a couple outdoor.

Try convincing your models to go out in the rain and shoot at night. Using off-camera flash or neon lights, you will produce stunning night portrait photography with this background.

Street Lights

street light portrait.

Street lights make for a beautiful background using available light on the streets at night. Using a wide aperture, place your subjects in front of a street light source. You will notice right away how this extra light provides an interesting shallow depth to any background. For this desired effect to work best, make sure you set your lens to wide apertures only.


portrait with sparklers.

For a unique night portrait, have your models light sparklers and move them around the night’s sky as you shoot. You can play with different shutter speeds for a unique look. First, shoot at a fast shutter speed and then incrementally slow down your shutter speed for action shots with your subject and the lighting becoming blurry and artsier.


night fireworks.

Fireworks always make for beautiful backgrounds during a nighttime shoot. Whether it’s the fourth of July, a wedding, or a birthday party, try having your models stand in front of a big open sky while they are illuminated with fireworks of all different colors and shapes. Another great idea is to create a silhouette of their body as the fireworks go off behind them. Turn your aperture way up to achieve this desired look.

Christmas Lights or Fairy Lights

fairy lights portrait.

Look for affordable fairy lights. Ask your model to wrap the lighting around them or simply hold them in the palm of their hands for a surreal look.

The more lights, the better during these shoots. These cute little lights create wonderful ambient looks and can usually already be found in your home! So climb up into your attic today to get started.


child night portrait with lamp lighting.

If you can find a plug nearby, try taking a lamp from your bedroom or living room and setting it up outside with your model in the grass. Obviously, be cautious that the ground is not wet, but setting up something that is normally indoors, outside draws your viewer in and leaves them asking questions about what they are looking at.

Night Photographers to Follow

If you are looking for even more inspiration, check out these top nighttime photographers. Each of their works is unique and may help you find your voice and special ideas for your next night’s portrait session.

Henri Prestes

Henri Prestes captivates audiences with this surreal night photography. Some of his best works include a hint of a human element. A dark field with one lonely person leaving viewers wondering how did they get there and where are they going?

Billy Dinh

Billy Dinh is a night portrait photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. His work has a very cinematic feel and draws you into the nightlife of New York City during all seasons of the year. Every character in his images leaves you wondering if you are standing next to them or entering a new film scene.

Mike Will

Mike Will is a street shooter specializing in playing with light by night by adding movement into his lighting. His light trails are stunning and help guide the viewer’s eye through every city.

Eyesboyzinsta (Kyle)

Eyesboyzinsta is a great night photographer to follow if you love graphic design. He intertwines night portraits with design leaving the viewer in awe. Looking at his work is the same effect of being entangled in a dream-like state. Each image is more interesting than the next as light enters from all angles.

slow shutter speed portrait at night.


We hope you enjoyed this article on night portrait photography. With these easy-to-follow tips and tricks, you should be able to shoot in any lighting situation for amazing night portrait shots. Remember to bring the right lighting gear, lenses, camera, and tripod to shoot portraits.

If you want to learn even more about night photography, check out our article on ideas and tips and ideas for the nighttime photo shoot.

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Krystal Kenney is an award-winning photographer residing in Paris, France. She has been photographing for over 10 years and enjoys teaching others about the craft. She spends most days shooting events, portraits, and weddings around Paris and working on writing new books.
Krystal Kenney is an award-winning photographer residing in Paris, France. She has been photographing for over 10 years and enjoys teaching others about the craft. She spends most days shooting events, portraits, and weddings around Paris and working on writing new books.

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