Behind the Scenes with Aaron Feldman #1: Getting Great Night Shots

By, January 29, 2013

We strongly believe that everything is an opportunity if you choose to make it one. With photography, having the technical knowledge to support your creativity can bring an image to the next level.

During a wedding, we are often faced with nighttime photography. Although the night can bring technical challenges, we see it as an opportunity to get amazing shots, like this one of Amanda during her wedding at the Shady Canyon Golf Club.


If you take a snapshot at night using a point and shoot camera, and keep the flash on, something interesting happens. Even though subject is lit up, the background is very dark. What gets lost is the full range of detail – the darkest darks and the brightest whites – that really make an image stand out. The trick to shooting night photography at a wedding is to know how to handle the lighting scenario very quickly. For example, this photo of our bride, Linda, was taken while it was pitch black outside at The Grand Del Mar.


Rather than testing everything on the wedding day, we test out every possible scenario beforehand. That way, we are extremely prepared when we encounter tricky lighting, like during this wedding reception at The Darlington House. The more experienced a photographer is, the better they should know how to handle any lighting situation.


To properly achieve a good nighttime shot, a few steps need to take place.

Step 1: Try to bring out as much natural light as possible, either by using a longer exposure or a higher ISO. Being successful at night shots starts night starts with a camera that can photograph at a high ISO (your camera’s level of sensitivity to available light). The top of the line cameras can shoot at 10,000 ISO and still look nice, as compared to a point and shoot that may go up to 1600 ISO before the quality is greatly diminished. By shooting with a longer exposure and higher ISO, we are able to take a nearly black sky and pull out the remaining blue that is invisible to the eye.


Step 2: Balance the flash (if needed) with the natural light. This takes away the “flashy look”. When the flash and natural light are balanced, the image will have a nice range of detail, like you see in these images below.


Step 3: Decide if you want to add a lighting style to help enhance the image creatively. Sometimes a side light or back light can add an extra edge. For example, in the image below, the cigar smoke stands out against the light source coming from behind it.


To produce this next image, we added a backlight behind the bride and groom at Boettcher Mansion, to make the photo more dramatic.


Step 4 (a): If we’re going for a posed shot, we want to make sure that the subjects are arranged in a cool, flattering way. This makes all the elements more interesting, including the subjects, lighting, and composition.


Step 5 (b): For candid night images that are not posed, we follow a similar practice. We try to pull in as much of the natural light as possible, so that you can feel the ambiance of the moment. In these photos from bride and grooms’ grand exits, we utilized the headlights and the sparklers to light the scene.


For the images below, we used a tripod and timed exposure to capture the mood and atmosphere of the moment. By looking at the images, you can feel the emotions of a warm summer night reception under the lights at Rancho Valencia, or the energy of the US Grant in the Gaslamp. If these photos were taken with a quick snap and  flash, or a low-ISO camera, the images would not contain the same level of detail and emotion. By controlling the lighting, we took advantage of the ambient light to enhance the “feel” of the images.


By using longer exposures during night photos, like this one from Jessica and Dan’s destination wedding, you can be creative, showing motion and blur in a positive way.


Letting light into a photo allows you to grab the detail in the scene. If you fight the natural light that is available, an image can appear sterile and flat, like a snapshot. Instead, we take the light that exists and use it to our advantage. For example, if used in the right way, a little bit of grain created by light sources can give the image texture and feeling.


Night photography is a slower way of shooting versus daytime photography. It’s not about getting a thousand shots. Instead, it’s about getting a handful of portofolio-worthy images, like these from Estancia and Park Hyatt Aviara!


That’s it for this “behind the scenes” look at our process. Until next time, keep practicing those night shots :) Aaron

San Diego Wedding Photographer

Wedding Photography San Diego

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