Photographing wedding portraits at night can be challenging and trying to shoot under the stars just adds to the level of difficulty. How do you pull it off when there’s a tight timeline, distracting lights, and tipsy couples who need a little direction? Read on to discover Jesse and Moira La Plante’s top five tips for creating stunning wedding portraits under the night sky that will wow your clients and help you win awards.
Photographing Wedding Portraits Under the Stars:
1. Get away from light pollution.
There are two types of light pollution that affect astrophotography: local and global. Local light pollution comes from wedding venues, street lights, and the headlights of passing cars. This type of light pollution is easy to get away from. You simply walk away from buildings, parking lots, and roads. Global light pollution is a little trickier. It’s the light around major population centers. If you’re shooting a wedding on the Las Vegas strip, you’re probably not going to be able to take a photo of the Milky Way without driving for at least an hour. We recommend using Dark Site Finder to see a light pollution map of your area.
[Read: Your Guide to Eco-Friendly Photography in the Great Outdoors]
2. Photographing wedding portraits under the stars. Start with just the stars.
Before you try to take a photo of your subject under the night sky, start with a photo of just the sky. Put your camera on a tripod, focus on something in the distance, and dial your settings to around 10 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 25000. Your final settings will vary drastically depending on light pollution, but for most locations this should be a good one starting point. Press the shutter release and see what you get! Can you see the stars clearly? Is your frame too bright? Not bright enough? Make adjustments accordingly until you’re happy with the result. Are the stars in focus? If not, move on to tip #3.
3. Use Live View to focus.
If you want the stars to be tack-sharp, here’s what we recommend. Switching your camera to live view, digitally zooming in on the brightest star or planet in the sky. Now switch your camera to manual focus and, ever so slowly, twist your focus ring until the brightest star/planet appears to be in focus. Now release the shutter. Are the stars in focus? If so, nice job! If not, no worries. Try this instead: Twist your focus ring all the way around until you see the infinity symbol ∞. Now take the photo. In focus? If still not, twist your focus ring just a tiny bit away from the infinity symbol. Take another shot. If still not in focus, twist it a tiny bit more, and so on, until you achieve a perfect result.
4. Incorporate the human element.
Now that you’ve successfully taken a photo of the night sky, let’s turn to making a portrait! Bring your subject(s) into the frame and focus on them. (If you focus on the stars for a portrait, your subjects will be out of focus.) Now, here’s the tricky part. If there’s even a bit of ambient light falling onto your subjects, they’ll have to hold totally still for the entirety of the exposure. If there’s no ambient light whatsoever, your job will be a lot easier. The couple can move around all they want and you can easily freeze them with a pop of a flash at any point during the time your shutter is open.
[Read: The Rule of Thirds: How to Use It and When to Break It]
5. Break the rules!
As Pablo Picasso famously said, “Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.” Once you get a few astro portraits under your belt and you’re happy with your results, why not try to shake things up a bit? Instead of trying to eliminate light pollution, see if you can use it to light your subjects. Instead of instructing your couple to hold still, ask them to move around and see what sort of blurred effect you can achieve. Or try focusing on the stars instead of on your subjects. Who knows? It might end up being your new favorite image. One thing we know for sure is that if we all follow the same rules all the time, all our work is going to look much the same. It’s your imperfections that will (paradoxically) make you stand out from the crowd. So, learn the basics, then have fun experimenting until you fall in love with astrophotography!
Loved reading about photographing wedding portraits under the stars? The La Plante’s are part of the Educator’s Circle on World’s Best Wedding Photos. Find out more about their educational opportunities here.