10 Tips and Tricks for Shooting Night Portraits with Off-Camera Flash

Portrait photographer Francisco Hernandez is back with a really useful tutorial on night portraits. If you’d like to start shooting some night portraits using off-camera flash, it would be a good idea to watch this first.

Hernandez breaks his advice down into 10 tips (and one bonus tip) that will help you capture better night portraits by nailing focus, getting enough light, creating proper separation, and more. The video breaks down all 10 tips in detail, but we’ve gone ahead and listed all of them below along with a short description:

1. Get help nailing focus

At night, it’s going to be much harder for your camera to see your subject and focus. To help it along, use your smartphone’s flashlight or a flash trigger with a focus assist beam.

2. More Light

Widen you aperture to bring in more light. The brighter your lens, the easier it’ll be to pull in enough light without cranking up your ISO or cranking down your shutter speed. Speaking of which…

3. Even MORE Light

If aperture is not enough, slow down your shutter speed to bring in even more light. If you have to go really slow, make sure you’re working with a steady tripod, and a very steady model.

4. I Said MORE LIGHT

If that’s STILL not enough, start raising your ISO. The lower the ISO the better, but sometimes you have no choice.

5. Low Power Flash

Leave the monolights at home. Opt, instead, for a speedlight or even a little mini speedlight so you can use the bare minimum flash power. A little light can go a long way at night.

6. Diffuse Your Flash

If that flash is still too strong at the lowest power, diffuse it. This can be done on the cheap with a diffusion cap, or by using a softbox like Francisco does in the video.

7. Move the Light

This is a last resort, but if your diffused flash at lowest power is still producing too much light, move it further from your subject. This will change the quality of the light (inverse square law of light) so be careful.

8. Create Separation

During the day, the sun acts as a great secondary light source to create separation between subject and background. But we’re shooting at night, so you’ll need to use a second light source, or find lights in the area, to create that separation.

9. Don’t Mix Light

If someone IS helping you nail focus with a flashlight, have them move it off your subject once you’ve got focus. Mixing that flash light with your speedlight can overexpose your shot.

10. Be careful with mixing color temps

If you’re using multiple lights—to create separation, for instance—make sure the color temps are the same. For this reason, it’s also a good idea to place your subject somewhere away from ambient light like street lights, so you’re not contending with a light you can’t control.

Bonus Tip: Use TTL if you have it

Using TTL on a speedlight can actually help it fire at a lower power than it normally can. This is because TTL uses pre-flash, which uses up some power. So when you use TTL, you’re able to shoot about 2-3 stops below what your light can usually do.

And that’s it! This advice covers the basics, and there’s a lot more to learn about capturing great night portraits, but it’s enough info to get you out there and shooting without making any rookie mistakes.

To see more from Francisco, be sure to visit his website, give him a follow on Facebook and Instagram, or subscribe on YouTube for more great tutorials like this one.


Image credits: All photos by Francisco Hernandez and used with permission.

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