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Night Portraits Are Simpler Than You Think | Urban Night Photography Tips

By Holly Roa on April 5th 2017

You might think that night portraiture requires bringing lights on location, but with fast glass and a camera body that can easily handle iso 3200 or so, in an urban environment that’s not actually the case. Shutterbug photographer Jordan Matter shares his tricks for making night portraits on the street in this short video.

On first glance, street lights make an awful key light, but by simply changing the way you’re thinking you can make something beautiful. The overhead lighting creates an unflattering triangle of light on the subject’s nose when they face the camera, but simply tilt their face upward, and you’ve got yourself a sweet portrait.

Next, you can use a shopping center’s free soft boxes to grab three distinct shots quickly. Display windows that stay illuminated after-hours can actually put out a fair amount of light, and can beautifully illuminate a subject’s face for a portrait. This can be utilized in a few different ways – by standing with your back to the window and your subject facing it, you get full and even, soft illumination of the face.

You can get a nice profile shot by changing your position – keep your subject’s face pointed toward the window, but move so the window is now at your side rather than behind you.

For one more quick change, have the subject stay in the same spot and turn their face toward you – now they will be lit with a Rembrandt pattern for a more dramatic look.

This tutorial really drives home the notion of paying close attention to your light, whether you design it yourself or it’s light that you’ve found – but especially of the found variety. When you’re shooting in the studio and you’ve set up strobes, you are more likely to be paying close attention to where the light falls in your controlled environment.


Outside of the studio, things can be a bit messier and it’s easy to overlook little lighting details – but take care, because light can make or break a photograph. It’s the secret ingredient, the special sauce in your photographic recipes, and that includes outside shoots – so don’t let your outdoor lighting be bland or careless.

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Seattle based photographer with a side of videography, specializing in work involving animals, but basically a Jill of all trades.
Instagram: @HJRphotos

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  1. Alan Sy

    I’m not often one to be grammar police, but holy crap the opening line of this article is awkward. There are many grammatical errors throughout this article, and it was worse than even the standards of an ESPN article in terms of readability. Please please please proof read your writing! Read it  out loud and ask if it makes sense! There’s some good content in this article, but the writing is not doing it justice.

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