Adding Light To Buildings For Night Portraits

As many of you know I love to shoot a few portraits at my weddings at night. There is something about the blank canvas you have with a completely dark scene that really intrigues me and always allows for so much creativity. Another thing I really like about setting up a shot at night is it allows for something different in your portfolio that not everyone does. In a competitive environment it is key to have your portfolio stand out and doing things that are a little different from the rest of the crowd will always give you an edge.

This image was a fairly simple setup but one thing I had to focus on was not just lighting the bride and groom but also the building behind them. This location has a gorgeous front to the building and I knew that I wanted to use that for a image. When we shot this the only light really was candle light along the stairwell and a few ambient lights in the background but not really enough to give definition to the mansion. Here is the image without any lights and shot at .6 seconds at ISO 1250 at f/ 3.5 It does have a very romantic and beautiful feel to it however if we simply added the bride and groom in there the scene wouldn’t have enough light to expose them.

To light this I setup a fairly simple lighting setup with 3 lights. The Bride and groom were lit by 1 Q-Flash in a small soft box about 30 degrees to the right of the camera and up high. I first figured out the exposure for the background to be able to get the candles glowing which was 1/20th of a second at f/2.8. Then I adjusted the Q-Flash to be able to give just enough power to light the bride and groom from about 4 feet away. Although the shutter was slow the building would have still been pretty much black so there are 2 lights on the building, both up on the middle of the grass just outside of the frame. On the left was another Q-Flash powered way down and to the right a Vivitar 285 flash that was set to 1/2 power. These gave plenty of light on the house (actually a little bit too much for what I really would have liked) and really lets the house pop a bit. Since many times at a wedding the location is very important and means a lot to the bride and groom I like to include it in some of the images to help tell the full story of their day.

Also here is one shot where the light on the right of the building didn’t fire. You can see the difference that the 2nd light makes on the scene, it softens up some of the shadows but also does make the scene a little more flat. Are the shadows bad? They can be a little distracting but as with anything is really depends on the feel you are going for in the shot. Always remember with lighting to experiment and have fun! Move lights around and see how that effects the shot, add more lights and continue to expieriment!

photo lighting for portraits

The camera was set to 1600 ISO at 1/20th of a second shooting at f/2.8. I shot it with a slow shutter speed to get the glow of the candles going up the stairway and some of the ambient light inside the building. There are a few hotspots from these 2 back lights that should have been turned down just a bit, but that’s always the tricky part setting up a shot at a wedding in less than 5 minutes :)

What are some lighting questions that you have? Leave us a Facebook comment at the bottom of the page and lets start a conversation.

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Author: Mark

Mark is a fine art wedding and portrait photographer from Northern California. He has been passionate about photography since childhood and started his studio 12 years ago to bring a fresh style of photography to the wedding and portrait world.

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