Great photographers usually possess several skill sets, from strong communication to technical knowledge and artistic vision. A quick glance at their portfolios will reveal their strengths in a number of these areas. Even with a basic understanding of composition and technique, most photographers can usually capture and deliver unique images from sunrise to sunset, but what about after the sun goes down?
Problem: portrait sessions are too often limited to daylight hours
While shooting with only natural or available light is perfectly fine, a large number of photographers do so because they are uncomfortable using off-camera flash, or their creative toolbox does not include tricks for executing inspiring night shots. It doesn’t have to be this way.
[REWIND: 6 artistic photo effects using tripods]
Solution: Make night time the right time with a whip pan composite
With a little bit of practice and inspiration, photographers can shed new light on evening shoots and completely open up their shooting potential. This will help photographers build a stronger portfolio and draw more clients to expand professional opportunities.
Click right in the box below to see a behind-the-scenes video:
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Here is how we used a whip pan to create an artistic night shot:
STEP #1: Dial in ambient exposure
You can adjust your settings several different ways to arrive at a particular exposure, but because we want to do a whip pan to emphasize motion, we slowed our shutter speed first and then adjusted our aperture and ISO. Exact settings will change based on various circumstances, such as the time of day or available light at your location, your camera sensor’s sensitivity to light and the dynamic range it’s able to capture, as well as your subject’s ability to stand still, among other factors.
If you struggle with shooting in low light/nighttime situations, download these free behind-the-scenes videos for a nighttime engagement shoot.
STEP #2: Add off-camera flash for a backlight
Adding an off-camera flash behind the subjects for this type of shot will benefit the overall image in a number of ways. First, it will create a rim light to outline your subjects and separate them from the background, and it will also help freeze your subjects in place, despite the slow shutter speed.
Note: We added a full CTO gel to the flash so that we could warm the couple’s skin tone in-camera, which then allowed us to “cool” the ambient temperature when adjusting for the couple’s skin tone during post-production.
STEP #3: direct subjects into pose
The pose you direct your subjects into should reflect the style and mood of the image you’re trying to capture. For this image, we directed our couple into one of our go-to foundation poses, the closed pose, to create more touchpoints and add intimacy to the image.
You can find out more about how and why we pose our subjects in the Complete Posing Workshop. A solid command of posing will help you create original, authentic looking images in any situation.
Note: Because the shutter will remain open for a longer duration, we recommend advising your subjects to hold very still to eliminate or at least minimize blur.
STEP #4: capture Plate Shot (use tripod)
As the first of two shots for the composite, this image will be used for the clean shot of the couple. Again, while the flash will assist in freezing the couple even with a slower shutter speed, the couple will need to remain very still in both the plate shot and the whip pan shot so that the two images can be combined during post-production. We highly recommend using a tripod to stabilize the camera.
STEP #5: Capture Whip Pan Shot
Center the couple in the frame and then press the shutter button. While the shutter is still open, pan the camera to the left and right. This will create the long lines of blurred light seen in the final image.
STEP #6: Create Composite in Post
Combine the images and mask the layers in Photoshop. Be sure to create a soft transition between the photos so that the composite is less obvious. You can find more information on how to create a composite image in post here.Join Premium
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Conclusion and Bonus
That is no different than the whip pan; this is one of those just amazing images anywhere type techniques at least anywhere at night. You can do this during the day too but it’s going to require much larger strobes which we’ll get to later on but you might remember this technique if you watched Lighting 101. We use this technique a lot when we’re on the dance floor; now on the dance floor we use it a little bit differently where we’re actually using on-camera flash and we use that on-camera flash to directly flash our subject to freeze them while we slow down the shutter speed and create motion in the background.