Night Time Shooting: City Portraits

By Wes Beiko

Recently my work brought me into downtown Calgary to shoot portraits of up and coming musician Kiyo.   After doing a series of day shots with Kiyo,  I was asked to do a night time shoot as well to highlight his roots in Calgary. This posed it's own challenge. I had yet to shoot formal night portraits in near darkness. With there being an almost entire new moon, the natural light was limited. With us beginning our shoot at 9:30PM and going until 11PM this posed the issue of "how do I have enough light on the subject, while maintaining the background exposure?"

A Couple Photos From The Day Shoot

The Solution:

Lights. External Lights. Now shooting downtown is tricky as is, permits are required and doing this as a favour for the artist I decided to go under the radar with minimal gear. No flash. One lens, one camera body and minimal tripod use. So what was my lighting gear of choice? An Amaran Halo ANL-C60 and an Energizer foldable lantern. 


Overall these lights PACK A PUNCH. No I really do mean it. Check these shots out from last night.   (Note the last one with Rembrandt lighting was shot using just the lantern emulating the look of head lights.) In the area overlooking the city, there was no natural light where we were. So the ring light alone was lighting up the subject in the pitch black.  


Now Lets Talk Photography Terms

I first off exposed for the background, having access to liveview helps since metering is useless in these situations. However as a general rule: shooting wide open, at a shutter speed of 1/50, and ISO 1600+ will give you a properly exposed background. From there we can use constant lighting on the subject to get the look we want.

One other option which I have yet to experiment with is to use a long exposure. Then using your on camera lighting, then flashing your subject to the correct exposure. This I'm sure would yield favourable results. My best guess would be shooting at a 5 second shutter speed, ISO 150 and wide open.