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[Part 4] Brightening Both the Subject and Nightscape Background

A shot with a beautiful night view as the backdrop captures a memorable moment of your journey. However, it is not easy to balance the brightness of the subject with that of the background. In the following, let us learn about useful techniques for taking portrait shots against a nightscape background. (Report by: Yasuhiko Kani, Model: Sayuri Kurahashi/ IARA)

Slow sync flash to bring nightscapes into relief

When using a clip-on external flash, many professional photographers would select the versatile "Aperture-priority AE" mode. While this mode is certainly convenient, there are a few things you should note when you use a flash under low-light conditions. Though the shutter speed is adjusted automatically on Canon cameras, this setting may be much slower than you intend it to be, resulting in the need to take measures to prevent camera shake.

If your subject is located at a fixed distance from the camera, you can determine the exposure level more precisely by measuring it with "Spot metering" or "Partial metering", followed by enabling the [FV lock/FE lock] mechanism, which locks the appropriate amount of flash output by firing a preflash.

Points for Selecting and Using a Flash

Incompatible brightness between subject and nightscape

  1. The portrait subject is too bright. Need to lower the brightness.
  2. The background is too dark. Unable to bring out the atmosphere of the night view.

EOS 7D/ EF17-40mm f/4L USM/ FL: 19mm/ Program AE (f/4, 1/60 sec)/ ISO 400/ WB: Auto

The camera system may determine, with TTL evaluative metering, that the amount of light including that for the background is insufficient. This will lead to an increase in flash output, which causes the main portrait subject to turn out slightly overexposed. Meanwhile, with the settings of f/4 (the maximum aperture for this lens) and 1/60 sec, the nightscape in the background is only vaguely visible. There is therefore a need to brighten the illumination according to what we actually see through our eyes.

Slow sync flash is the solution!

Shooting Conditions

Flash: Speedlite 580EX II

Camera Body: EOS 7D

Lens: EF17-40mm f/4L USM

Metering Mode: Evaluative

Shooting Mode: Aperture-priority AE

Aperture-priority AE (f/4, 1/5 sec, EV+1)/ ISO 400/ WB: Auto/ Flash exposure compensation: EV-0.7

As the area that the flash light reaches is small, the subject is prone to overexposure. In this example, the flash exposure is compensated to EV-0.7. When you make use of slow sync flash for capturing nightscapes in the Aperture-priority AE mode, TTL metering tends to make the background too dark and the subject too bright. To obtain the appropriate exposure amount, turn the exposure compensation dial on the camera to the positive side and set the flash exposure compensation to a negative value.

Zoom burst with slow sync flash

When using slow sync flash to capture a night view, turning the zoom ring during exposure "freezes" the movement in the area that is significantly brightened by the flash light, while bright light rays are seen to extend outward from the centre. This technique is called "zoom burst".

Speedlite 600EX

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*The Speedlite 580EX II was used to take all sample photographs in this article.

Yasuhiko Kani

Born in 1970 and graduated from Nihon University, Kani studied under photographer Shin Yamagishi before he went independent. He currently focuses on portrait photography, and is also engaged in a wide variety of activities for magazines, photo albums, CD jackets, advertisements, and movies.

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.

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