Portraits at Night


Lesson Info

Post Processing

Here's five that I picked out, that I like, and I already went through all of the selecting, and sorting. You can learn that, from a lot of other very talented instructors, here, on CreativeLive. I'm gonna show you my special sauce. This is how I edit night portraits. There's certain things, that I look for, and there's certain things, that I do. So, here they are, completely neutral. I'm gonna go into the develop setting, and if I scroll through here, you're gonna see, there's a whole bunch of nothing changed, right? What do I always do first? I scroll, to the bottom, and I say, enable profile corrections. Right there, if I go between them, the before and after, you can see, there's a lot of change. Too much, in fact. No! If I flip back and forth, between them, using the backstroke key, you can see the profile correction alone, just corrected for the normal aberrations, that that particular lens has, and that, if you don't make that first, you're gonna have to go back, and correct you...

r corrections, because this will just make the lens look its best. The second thing I do, is I usually apply, just a touch of dehaze. When you do that, it starts to take those night skies, that are usually a home mark, of the photographs, that I take, and crisp them up, just a tiny bit. And it takes out some of that natural flatness, that raw files has, and starts to enhance the photograph. The next thing, that I look at, so I zoom in, I say, alright. This is, this is great. I'm gonna scout around, and make sure, that I got critical focus. And because this was an LED streetlight portrait, her eyes are not as crisp as they could be. I mean, we're not going into it, and that was part of the demo. It, flash is superior to that. But, I do like the emotional qualities of this portrait. It's a good, unguarded moment. So, I'm looking at the quality of her skin, and I say, that looks like the white balance is a little bit off. It says, as shot, here. So, since I'm color managed, I'm gonna start, to ramp it, a little bit. I'll look at this, and I say, it can get a little bit cooler. Not so much. I'm gonna bring it back. I'm gonna try something good. Eyedropper, gray pavement, same light, that's on her face. And now, it neutralized, just a little bit. If I come back in, it looks pretty neutral. I like that. But, I want a little bit more warmth to it, touch of magenta, fantastic, great. So, this portrait's starting to shape up. It doesn't look straight, so I'm gonna go in, and check, for straightness. And boom. Now, she's standing up straight, as are the buildings, behind her. After that, I like to make sure, that we control our highlights, and there's two places in here, we have to check. One, is the buildings behind, and the second, is the face, the face being primary, the building, secondary. So, I wanna play with the highlights lighter, just a tiny bit, and watch what happens, to her face. I get details back, as I pull it down, a little bit. It's a global adjustment, though, and we lose some of the sparkle, in the background. So, let's go, from a global adjustment, to a local adjustment. I'm gonna pull out a brush, and I'm gonna say highlights, start with the basic one, and I'm gonna put it down, to, way too much, minus 100, and I come in, a little bit, again, and I'm going to brush in some highlight loss here, and it's gonna look terrible, absolutely terrible! I'm sorry! But, I'm gonna bring it back up. I can see the effect of the brush, until I see just what I want. Huh. Oh, thank you, for catching up to me, laptop. There we go. Hit backslash. Before, after, before, after. Now, I've retained those highlights. Second thing I'm gonna do, because this is a portrait, I normally don't do this, with night photography, is to start a new brush, and I'm just gonna add a little bit of clarity, to her eyes. Lots of people have their own flavor for this, and I'm just gonna say, make those a little bit sharper, and I might do a little bit in here, too, with the hair, 'cause we want some more detail, in the face, the places, that draw our attention, the most. Before, after, before, after. Lookin' better. So now, her face pops out. That's an important feature, in a portrait. And I look back here, the skyline, that looks fantastic. I might pull up the shadows, a tiny, little bit. Just a tiny bit. And then, I might add, just a tiny bit of clarity, to the whole thing, and make it sizzle. Go fullscreen. Before and after. Remarkable difference, just a little touch. And there's something I often do, because I like to see photography this way. I'm going to open this, in Silver Efex Pro, because I love black and whites. I wanna give you a glimpse, of the sizzle, that I put, into black and whites. There's a preset library, which is a good jumping off part. But, to me, I have, over the years, created my own series of custom recipes, starting with those. And what I do, first, is I click on the first one, and I cycle through them, and I watch the most important parts of the photograph. Starting with the face, looking at the sky, you can see, this one has a little bit more vignette, makes the center pop. A nice device, to use. And some of these are absolutely garish, for skin, and some of these look a little bit better, like that one. It's called headshot one, for a reason. There's different headshots. That one's a little over-processed, not so much, and I'll just keep flipping through, and I'll make a mental note of the ones I like. So, I like Muhlnomah, I like Headshot. I like this one, called Secret. What I call that, Secret. Let's zoom in, a little bit. Bring this over, take a look, at the face. It looks a little bit too structured, right now. So, I'm gonna bring the structure, back down to zero, and it's not emphasizing that grain. And I would say, the grain is neutral, that's fine. Take that off. It takes a lot of the whole off of there. I don't want that. So, zoom back out. This particular one looks pretty fantastic. If we wanted to play, with something additionally, we could play, with the color filters, and see what happens to how they're applied, too. And I like the green. If we flip back, we'll see, that she's wearing something, that's in the blue-green family. And if I hit the green, it makes the green get a little bit lighter, versus no filter. I like what that did. It also made the background darker. So, I'm gonna choose that. I'm gonna hit save. It round trips it back in. And it becomes part of the Lightroom library. And, there, we have a beautiful black and white portrait, softly lit, with a streetlight lamp LED. Let's move on, to the next one. Lit by flash. We know, everything's crisp here. We also see, that along the edges here, there's some glow, from the long exposure. There was another LED streetlight, about 40 feet away, that cause this additional illumination. And she was standing a little bit to the left, when I started swingin' the LEDs. So, what I like about this one, is we have this concentric circle, in the center. I think, it draws the eye in. But, I think that the, as it was shot, even though it was accurate, we can get better. So, I wanna find something neutral, again, and at her feet, right here, in the gray, gonna pop that. Now, it looks a little bit too cold, and blue. I'm gonna warm it up, a tiny, tiny bit. Still, I see a little bit of red, in her face. That's good. Now, it looks healthy neutral, instead of cold neutral. And, we're gonna run down here, and make sure, that we have profile collections turned on. Tiny bit of dehaze, not too much, because there's some soft elements, that I like, and this one's almost done. The reds are our star of the photograph. So, I'm gonna roll down, to the saturation, and just the red channel, and bring that up, a couple of points. And now, they start to pop. That, combined with a little bit of clarity, is gonna make this portrait sing. So, as we scroll around, we can see, that now, this experiment, with red LED lights, has turned into something a little bit more beautiful. We have some other areas, around here, that we might wanna deal with. So, to draw some attention, away from this dark edge, I'm just gonna pull in, a gradient from the left, change this, to exposure. Now, I pull the exposure down, a little bit. And that's gonna start to draw more attention, over here. I like that. Let's move on, to the next one. Here's another portrait, that features red. Getting on the face, it's got a nice, soft sort of, 80s soft, focused look to it. I like that. First step, always enable profile corrections. Let's zoom out, and show you that, the difference. Pretty significant, right? Then, we turn on a tiny bit of dehaze. The more I do it, the more dare-ish it looks. So, I don't like to usually go over 20 points, with dehaze. Like that. That's before, and after. So now, I wanted to get some of this, showing through there, which we got. And we have this beautiful shadow, over here. Next, we're gonna roll up here, and we're gonna say, the highlights were just a little too bright. I want that red, to be more saturated. So, we're gonna pull the highlights down, until that red pops! And then, I wanna zoom in, on her face, and see if we can do a couple of classic portrait things. We're gonna use that same clarity brush, that we had before, and we're going to add a little clarity, to the eyes, a little bit, to the hair, surrounding her face. And, and then, I'm gonna pull, I'm gonna hit new, and pull another one, for a little bit less clarity, and then just soften, a tiny bit, in the shiny areas. A little classic portrait style. That one's looking great. Moving on, to more of a challenge. I have combined a lot of different light sources, in this shot. We had tungsten, LED, and CFL lamps, coming through. These lights, through these windows. We also had some smoke grenades, that we lit off. It started out, a little orange, and this light passed through that, to create more orange. We had a Profoto B1, up in the right hand corner, up here, in a second floor window, which we added two quarter-cut CTO gels to, and that should've warmed it up. The as shot, here, if we set it to flash, we're gonna see, that it pops, just like that. So, that CTO, is neutral, plus the CTO, and that just pops right there. It makes this go to that, and it just looks like I set my camera, to something, that was a little bit off, in the color space, and we can pop it in, by choosing the right thing, here. The next features, that I wanna pull out, in this, are, there's not a lotta background information. So, we're gonna start, with the usual, enable profile corrections, go down, pull a tiny bit of dehaze, because I like the smoke! I don't wanna get rid of it! Just a tiny bit. And then, we're gonna go up here, and pull in some shadows. Then, we start to see more of this come through, and take a look, at our model's face, and one of the special elements, that I had, we had flash, tungsten, UV light, and a pixel stick. They are very complicated, light-wise, exposure here. I wanna bring out this second face, that was illuminated, with the UV, on the highlighted part of her face. So, I'm gonna go back, to my brushes. I've created a special brush. This one, I used, most recently, on Milky Way. This one has a plus, on contrast, a plus, on highlights, plus, on whites, 39, 44, and 15, respectively. Also, a little more clarity, and a little dehaze. I'm gonna pull down the dehaze, on that one. And then, a negative, on defringe. Now, watch what happens, when I use this, in the shadow area. You see, that other face start to emerge there? I'm gonna backslash, to show before, and after. It's starting to come forward. Next, I'm just gonna bring exposure up, a tiny bit, 'cause we cranked that down, and that's great. And then, the highlights are starting to break up, so I'm gonna bring this back down. Okay, that, startin' to look great. The pixel stick looks juicy, and purple, the way it should. And this smoke over here, looks fantastic. But, I wanna bring out the smoke, a little bit more. So, we're gonna start a new brush. And we're going to move, from custom... To dehaze. But, not in the way you think. I wanna have dehaze set, to negative 100, just to start with. And I'm gonna play with it, just to see what happens, right? This should be smoke. (exclaims) Wow, that's too much. We started negative 100, for a reason. And dial it back. And you see, at about negative 12, it softens up that smoke, even more. I'm gonna punch in, a little bit more, here. A little bit more here, a little bit more here. That's good. Before, after. We're starting to see the shadows, created by the interior lights part, come through that smoke, and pop some more. And now, we'll take a look at it, fullscreen. Now, it's starting to tell a story. And that's the whole reason, for finishing your photographs, is you have a capture, that happen, in-camera, and we did our best, to nail it, in-camera, but you can finish it, and make everything pop. Now, let's do one other thing. We have all these great settings, that we did here. If you hit command-C, you come up, with copy settings, for everything. My camera didn't move. So, that means, I can literally copy everything here, including the local adjustments, like the brush movements there I did. Actually, I'm gonna copy all of those, move to the next photo, and paste them. Now, a lot of the hard work we did, shows up again, right there, and we need to check the brushes, to make sure they're in the right place. If you hover over the brush, it's gonna show you the area of effect. You can drag 'em around, if you want, and say, I want this, here or there. It helps, with the pixel stick. I think, it's a good thing. And then, with this one, over here, let's zoom in. You need, to make sure that's in the same place. I don't think it is. So, we can do one or two things, delete it. Or... Move it around. So, if we pull this down here, it's about the same place it was before. And one thing I noticed here, is I also wanna bring out a little bit more of the UV, that happened there. So, I'm gonna hit a new brush, again. And I'm gonna bring up highlights. And I'm gonna super zoom in here, and make a really small brush, and see if I can pull out... Steady finger. You'll start to pull some of these out. It's like drawing them, all over again. Now, we can see where it was, by using it lower. But, if I pull up just a little bit of highlights here, they start to come out, and I can repeat that process, now that I found the right combination, over and over again. Because, I went through so much trouble, to paint that on. But, the flash is sort of obliterating the UV, and the highlighter effect. Hit the brush, undo it, go fullscreen. And I'm very happy. There's a lot of mood, motion, and kinetics, with this portrait. I hope these tips help you get started, on editing your night portraits. I'm gonna leave you, with this. Always start, with enabling lens profile corrections, and have a little fun, with the dehaze slider, but not too much fun. You might destroy the image. If you wanna learn more, check out other courses, on CreativeLive, 'cause this is just one opinion of many. But, I look forward, to hearing from you, about all those wonderful things that you're doing, with your explorations, in night portraiture.

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.
  • 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.