Master low- light portraits

Master low- light portraits

Discover how to work with low light to produce stunningly atmospheric images

Speak to professional photographers working in almost any field of photography and explore what’s possible when you make effective use of minimal light?

It can be tempting to think of low light as a problem to be solved. Light is the lifeblood of photography and, as photographers, we often find that we instinctively want to create or harness more light for our photos, rather than eliminate or restrict it. the renaissance enjoyed by the humble flashgun has seen increasing numbers of photographers experimenting with two, three or even four lights in their portrait setups. However, sometimes great results can be achieved by stripping things back and seeing what you can do with just one light source – whether it’s a single flash or even just a window.

In this feature you’ll discover ways to create beautiful low-light portraits with practical, easy-to-follow projects that you can try for yourself at home.

Digital capture brings many advantages

Digital capture brings many advantages that make it easier than ever to capture effective

low-light portraits. today’s sensors produce relatively minimal noise, even at high ISO settings, and they also capture a wide dynamic range. What’s more, judging the effectiveness of the exposure is made easier by the LCD, which enables you to check the results that you’ve captured straight away.

The secret to great low-light portraits is the mysterious and emotive atmosphere

The secret to great low-light portraits is the mysterious and emotive atmosphere that they capture. If you put [a subject] on the edge of a bed and open the right curtain a little bit and the light comes across them, it can look fantastic, [but] open the curtains completely and the whole atmosphere is gone, “If I don’t like the light in a room, I’ll go in and close the curtains, then open them just a little bit – you find that the light becomes magical.”

Low-light portraits are all about where the light isn’t falling

Low-light portraits are all about where the light isn’t falling, rather than where it is. “a big window in a room generates one, big pool of soft light – it goes everywhere, it lights everything,”. “If you were to close the curtains so that they’re open maybe just two or three inches, what you end up with is a thin, strip light… a hard light in one direction.
It doesn’t illuminate the room; it doesn’t lift the room up. It lights onto a surface in such a way that it creates deep, strong shadows and it reveals shape and form. It adds a bit of mystery to the scene.”

You can also create low-light portraits by using your own lighting

You can also create low-light portraits by using your own lighting. “a low quantity of light is no excuse for bad light,” says Lovegrove. “If the scene is just really, really dark, then you’ve got the opportunity to put some light in and make it interesting.” However, he cautions that any lighting you create yourself must always look convincing. “If you’re going to use light in a low-light environment, just make it look believable,” he says. “try to replicate what naturally occurs – and the only way you’re going to know what naturally occurs is to have your eyes open and just look and observe the light.”

Tips for low light

Use Live View

Compose using the LCD screen.

Work in manual

adjust the exposure so that a picture has the mood and feel you want. there are only three settings to adjust – the aperture, the ISO and the shutter speed. If depth of eld isn’t an issue, then open the lens up, and choose the shutter speed necessary to get a sharp picture.

Work with the light

Just because the space is dark, it doesn’t mean to say you’ve got to increase your exposure. Get it right in-camera – don’t rely on post-production. If the scene is very beautiful and it’s dark, get a tripod out; don’t destroy the atmosphere by adding light.

Don’t rely on histograms

the histogram doesn’t tell you anything in a high–contrast, low-light environment; and [it] has no idea of art.

Don’t be afraid of clipping

If you try and show all the detail in an image, often it can end up looking relatively at and uninteresting.

Add lights with care

Put the lights where you want them, keeping it natural and believable.

Direction of light

You may have to individually light subjects.

Minimise depth of eld

If you don’t have a wide-aperture prime lens, use your standard zoom or kit lens at its longest focal length, and focus close to minimise depth of eld.

Colour temperature gels

These enable you to create extra e ects with your ashgun, entirely in-camera, saving time spent later in Photoshop.

Understand light

Big light sources, placed near the subject, will produce more attering and professional-looking light than a small light source, so invest in a softbox.

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