Gear and Preparation


Portraits at Night


Lesson Info

Gear and Preparation

Night portraiture requires gear. You can't get around it. You need stuff to make portraits at night. Let's talk about all the things that we need to use to get ready to go out to shoot. First up, how do you plan for a mission? Well, check the weather. You gotta check for clouds, you gotta check for temperature. And also, what's the phase of the moon? Is it gonna be really bright? Is there gonna be no moon? Is it someplace in between? Also check traffic, if you wanna get someplace by a particular time, because you wanna shoot with a particular celestial event. Let's say you wanna get the Milky Way at a particular time or moon set then you need to know whether there's traffic between you and your goal. Sounds simple but you forget because there's so many variables. Number four, confirm with your model. Sounds basic but, you have to do the same thing at night as you do during the day. And the fifth, check and pack your gear. It sounds elemental but, if you don't have all of your batteries...

charged, if you don't have spares of stuff, if you haven't tested your intervalometer, you might not be able to do what you wanted to do. So please, check it all out. Next up, pack with intent. Have a mission, think about it, visualize the thing that you want to do that night. Say, I'm going to add flash plus star trails, what do I need to achieve that? Write down your mission and then go look at all your gear and only put the things in your bag to achieve that mission. And don't do what I do. You'll see my bag in a little bit. I don't practice that because I teach and I do some other stuff and I ask what if a lot so, I might have multiple missions on a night. For you, if you're just starting out, shoot with intent for one thing and then you'll get much better at that and you won't be carrying extra stuff which is a pain in the butt. Next, camera gear. You need at least one camera body. Two's better, 'cause you'll have a backup or you can shoot longer and shorter exposures together. I would suggest, lens-wise, have a very wide or just wide, have a mid like a 50 and I've come to love having a telephoto lens with me. It's really gotten some wonderful details of night portraiture and those longer focal lengths are better for faces and bodies too by not exaggerating the features. Three, we talked about extra batteries. Bring that or you can use something like tether tools case relay system to have an external battery that runs longer and stronger. Or you can get a camera grip to put on your camera if it doesn't have that and run two batteries. Four, you've gotta have an intervalometer. You have to have some way to control the length of the exposure, they come from many manufacturers. The camera manufacturers, some third party manufacturers like Velo and you just need it, trust me. And number five, you need memory cards. But you need less than you need than the daytime. Why is that? 'Cause you're probably gonna take maximum, for long exposures like 50 pictures on a really good night. So, bring those along. If you want to use two card slots in your camera, and double down and have it write to both for safety. That's a nice idea. Lighting for portraits. I highly recommend using flash. Why? You'll see lots and lots of demonstrations of that going forward in this but you can use a speed light or you can use one of those battery powered mono lights. Both of them are acceptable and they have pros and cons which we will cover. Lighting for the scene. Everything that's not the portrait or some little flare for the portrait, first you gotta have a low lumen flashlight just so you can look at your camera and not burn your eyes out. I suggest one with a red filter or combination low power white and red so you can see what's going on with your camera until you get used to the motor memory of knowing exactly how to move everything on your camera. Number two, have a high lumen flashlight. You're gonna need that, let's say somewhere between 90 and 500 lumens just for focusing your camera. Your camera requires contrast to focus and that means need to shine a bright light in there and create bright and dark spots that have hard edges so you can focus with your camera. Three, you should have a battery LED for strong painting. Some of these little tiny battery LEDs, they're great for sweeping through a scene and they don't really weigh that much and they have a lot of power. And four, spare flashes. If you're not gonna use all your flashes for the portrait, you could walk through the scene with a speed light and use that for light painting too. Support, you absolutely unconditionally without any any reservations must have a tripod. It's essential. You gotta have it. And you should have one that doesn't vibrate. What's that mean? Well, you need legs that are strong and don't jiggle. I'll show you what I have. Number two, if you don't have people to help you, you should bring a light stand for your light because light from down here, although interesting on a stage, this up lighting looks kind of weird for photography. We're used to seeing portrait lighting from this angle. And number three, if you're lucky. Bring a VAL, a voice activated light stand, AKA your friends. They can hold the flash up where you want it anytime you ask them too and they'll put it down. They get tired but if you feed them and give them water, they might come back and do it again over and over. So, now we're gonna look at the big reveal. What's in my bag? Let's take a look at what's in the bag. First off, we're gonna start on the top. Because I like to shoot with friends, I've got a pair of walkie talkies, they work for a couple of miles since we work in the wilderness, I like to make sure that we can stay in contact. It's really important. Energy, you gotta have some energy. Not photo gear but, stick with it. Remember I mentioned that you have to have an intervalometer. (equipment dings) oh sorry. Here's our intervalometer. It's my Velo wired intervalometer for the Nikon. Precious, very precious. You never know when you need talcum powder, honestly. You can use it in a photograph or in other more useful normal ways. Here's one of my flashlights. This is a, this is a Coast HP 5R. I dig it because it's got a nice white light with a wide and narrow spread. And this is my up close camera light so I can use this and not burn my eyes out. There we go. And the case for that. I also like everybody should, keep a spare wrench for putting quick release plates on and business cards and stickers. You gotta keep those in there too 'cause you never know when you're gonna meet somebody who wants to know more about your work. That's it for the top of my bag. Next up, I have my dual charger from Watson. This allows me to when I have other things like a Go Pro with me, I can slide these plates off and charge anything with this. It also has a USB port on the side AC. And you can do DC with this and charge in the car. It's a great charger, there's a cord for it. Here's my big Coast flashlight, the HP14. This one is very bright. Also it has a narrow and wide beam. Right now I have a CTL, that I keep over it for when I'm doing tungsten and then I just tape it on to the side like that. So, that's my Coast. For the fun and tricky things, I have this EL wire which you'll see featured a little bit later in the presentation. Now I have here, my view filters, filter holder with a circular polarizer 'cause sometimes you need to polarize. And I think I've got about 34 stops of ND in here and a neutral density graduated filter. And, my newest acquisition, the lonely speck filter for helping me focus mine doing astral photography on stars. So, yes filters are still essential. Next up, sometimes a novelty but this is a UV lantern and you'll definitely see this feature. And you can't go anywhere without having your color management. I always edit on my laptop and sometimes when I'm giving presentations, these presentations are done at workshop style, I gotta make sure that the monitor or the television looks right. So I bring color management with me everywhere. I've gotta know that what I'm looking at is correct and accurate. So that's it for the top. Let's take a look what's in here. And this, oh yeah fantastic. Absolutely essential, if we're shooting Mount Ranier, socks, you gotta have a pair of socks with you, no joke. And gloves, fantastic. And when I'm shooting with speed lights, I keep this pack of Rogue light modifiers with me, a lot of bendable flash, speed light modifiers in there. And my hiking pants are here. In addition to that, sometimes you wanna carry your camera instead of having it on the tripod so I have this peak design strap which is easy on, easy off. That's it for the front pocket. On the side, I always keep water with me. Hydration is essential. Now let's look around the side here. Like I was talking about, essential piece of gear. This is my Gitzo Traveler Two. This is a travel tripod. Carbon fiber, lightweight but extremely strong. Without this, I can't do what I do. And worth the money. Looking inside, we have more camera gear now. Number one, because I work with flash a lot, I carry a flash meter. It's just a special edition Zirconic 308. Does the job really well. I've used all sorts of light meters. I have an L7 58 also for spot metering flash. But this is great for in center flash which is basically all you need. I also have extra memory cards, but not too many. So I have two in the camera right now and two here. And this just stays clipped to the inside of my bag so it goes nowhere. My camera, Nikon D750, these are the peak design strap holders. I keep an L bracket on it so that when I'm on the tripod, I can be horizontal, or I can be vertical. And because of the tripod head, the design of this tripod head, it's not a full square, there's a triangle here. I can actually have my intervalometer out here while I'm in vertical which you can't do with other tripod heads. My favorite lens, pretty much stays on the camera most of the time, is my Zeiss 15mm distagon F2.8. It's fast and its sharp and best yet, its manual focus. I use a lot of hyper focal focusing techniques. And this just stays where you put it. Next up, my second favorite wide lens, a Nikon 20mm 1.8G, this is a fast, yet small and light lens, works really well. All of these of course come with lens hoods and you should use them. Next up, the Sigma 35mm, 1.4 Art lens. This is a good medium wide for me, good for portraiture. And the other lens that I keep in here. Is the Nikon 70 to 200 2.8, essential for lots of portraiture. I'll drop this guy right over here. You might be asking why there's a lot of tape on the lens well, we tape down after we manually focus and we'll cover that too. Next up, sometimes I like to carry my camera on the outside, so I have the peak design quick clip. And then here, my little Tenda goodie bag, I keep all sorts of USB cords, 'cause you can never have enough. Headphones, for those quiet times when you are alone. A very small LED headlamp that clips on to a hat. Christmas LED lights which are fantastic for light writing which you'll see. I'll put this down for a moment. And these three pieces together make up the case relay system from tether tools. This allows me to plug that into my camera and have almost three times the capacity of one battery so I can shoot long long star trails or single exposures. In addition to that, I always carry two spare Nikon batteries, these are Watson brand. I always carry extra arca style quick release plates. A backup intervalometer which is a a simple one. Lots of triple A and double A batteries. You should always have those and spare batteries for the flashlights and this fits right in to that lens slot in the bag underneath it all, hand warmers, because you never know when you're going to get cold. This is a fantastic piece. This is from Peak design also, it's a rain cover. And it snugs up on the front, and it snugs up on the rear but you can flip it up to look at the camera and I can't believe I'm doing this. It also doubles as a hat so, keeps the water out of your face. Also under here I keep a little bit of cinefoil 'cause you can use that to make snoots on the end of your flashlights. I keep lot extra zip lock bags 'cause if the water gets through the bag, you gotta know, you gotta wrap up your stuff. And lastly, I have the rain cover for my backpack. And I didn't mention it but, this backpack is a F-stop Loca Ultralight. It's a frame pack meaning there's an aluminum frame back here. And this insert straps to it. But when this bag is empty, you barely notice it because its so light. And I want that instead of a heavy bag because of all this other stuff that I constantly carry with me. So, remember before I said don't do what I do, do what I say, if you get to the point where you're doing all the crazy stuff that I do, yes, please feel free to pack as much as I do. You don't have to have all this stuff but it might inspire you to understand why I carry all this stuff and I'm gonna demo all this. I use it all during this course.

Class Description

Learn to capture amazing environmental portraits at night and incorporate a starry landscape or beautiful urban environment with your subjects. Get started in night portraiture by knowing what gear to choose, what to look for in locations and how to use your friends as subjects. Incorporate lights into your night photos and bring life to a long exposure. In this class you’ll learn: How to take self portraits at night without losing any of your background or subject How to choose a light source and add life to long exposures What to get right in camera and how to develop your images further in lightroom How to safely use pyrotechnics to take your portraits to another level  



I learned some techniques in Matt's class, which were helpful, but believe this was for the advanced photographer and i was a little confused at times. i would've liked to know the "how to" with the lights, showing how to program them with more detail. I am just learning how to set my camera for different lighting situations. But a very interesting course and glad i went through it.


Great class! Liked it so much that I booked a trip to Colorado to work with Matt and Lance on one of their National Parks at Night classes. Highly recommend.

Peter Mackenzie

I don't understand the negative reviews. This class feels less hands-on than the other classes in the series, but the information is useful and makes sense. You also need to understand that all classes out of the night photography series will cover the basics in one way or another, so there is some repetition. Whichever class out of the night photography series you view last will feel like it has more repetition, especially if you have some skills before taking those classes. Just skip the intro and move on to the tricks Matt has to share.