Tips for Taking Nighttime Shots

Sometimes the darkness is so thick you can cut it with a knife.
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Shooting video at night is always a special challenge. Sometimes the darkness is so thick you can cut it with a knife. "Available light" is often only that which you are able to pack, rig and power yourself.

But lighting night scenes can also be a double-edged sword. Too much light is sometimes worse than none at all. That's right. Some videographers use too much light! The predictable results are overly bright subjects and backgrounds so black that they hold no detail.

The keys to successful nighttime shooting are:

  • • Shoot with the iris wide open. If the camera wants to iris down, you're overlit.
  • • Add only as much light as is needed to illuminate the subject.
  • • The gain boost switch is your friend. Most cameras look pretty good at +9 or +12.
  • • Take advantage of existing light sources. Streetlights make great backlights.
  • • Don't worry about mixed light sources. White balancing on a card held in front of the subject's face and aimed at the lens ensures critical skin tones will be faithfully recorded.
  • • Include illuminated windows and signs to put detail in the background.
  • • Dim or otherwise diffuse the intensity of your camera-mounted LED fixture or a low-wattage quartz lamp to maintain balance between the subject and the rest of the scene.
  • • Take advantage of the "Inverse Square Law" by moving stand-mounted lights as far from the subject as you can.
  • • Make an open reflector lighting fixture do double duty by spotting it out to illuminate the background while feathering the diminished edge of the beam onto your subject.

Remember, when it comes to night lighting; less is best.