Engagement Portrait Under the Stars – How We Shot It
The Equipment and Settings
- Nikon D700
- Nikon 15mm f/3.5 AIS (the old manual focus one, not the newer autofocus 14mm…)
- Giottos Tripod
- 1 sec @ f/4 & ISO 3200
- 30 sec @ f/8 & ISO 400
- Manual exposures, 5900K manual WB, RAW
The Shooting Conditions
This image was taken about 30-35 minutes after sunset, so the majority of light in the sky was gone and we were left with a medium-dark night sky. The moon was not up, so the light you see on the landscape is lit by the night sky alone.
To get a photo of two people in such a condition requires a fair amount of skill at holding still, combined with as high of an ISO and as fast of an aperture as you can manage. In this situation, I did not have f/2.8 or f/1.4 at my disposal, in fact for sharpness on this lens I found myself at f/4. This put me at ISO 3200 and a 1-second exposure, and even then the histogram was entirely empty on the right-hand half. (Meaning, 2-3 stops under-exposed)
Being more confident in my ability to push an under-exposed ISO 3200 image from my D700 than in a human’s ability to hold still for 2 or 4 seconds, I opted to just roll with this. At 1 second exposures, it took 1-2 dozen clicks before I got one where the couple was perfectly sharp.
I had a single flash behind them as an accent light, and I suppose I could have opted to also light them from the front, but I felt that such a spotlight would not capture the true feeling of being out there in the night under the stars.
Once I found a shot that was perfectly sharp, I had the couple step out of the frame and while my camera (on a tripod) was still framing the same exact composition, I cranked my ISO down to 400, my aperture up to f/8, and my shutter speed to 30 sec. This secondary exposure gave me a “blank frame” for me to merge with the high ISO exposure. I suppose I could have boosted my exposure even further to fill my histogram, but doing so often results in a much more difficult blend in Photoshop. I opted to just bump up both exposures in post-production, and then merge them.
To see more images from this portrait session, click HERE!
To learn about how I shoot most of my engagement portraits as a photographer at Lin & Jirsa, check out our new Natural Light Portraiture DVD workshop at the SLR Lounge Store!
Merging two exposures in this manner is very easy as long as you keep your exposures the same. You can apply almost the same exact processing to each image separately, open them in Photoshop as layers, and then mask the couple / subject into the scene so that most of the image is the high-quality, low-ISO image…
The two original exposures, in case you’re interested, looked like this:
And the final image, one last time:
Plus a 100% crop from two different areas in the image:
Until next time, take care and happy clicking!
For more education about how to merge exposures in all sorts of different kinds of shooting conditions, be sure to check out HDR Tutorial by SLR Lounge. This comprehensive “gold standard” guide will give you a mastery of HDR photography, from the scene considerations to the actual shooting to the post production. Click here for more info.