How to make night portrait on sky background with stars

How to make night portrait on sky background with stars

People are fond of photographing themselves on the background of beautiful places, but this is not always easy to do. One of such difficult subjects for the implementation is photo on the background of starry night sky. And today we want to tell you, how we usually do it.

Ночной портрет на фоне Млечного ПутиCanon EOS 5d mark II | Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM
ISO 1600 | f/1.4 | 15 s

We need:

– camera with manual settings

– tripod or any stable surface

– flash or any camera with a built-in flash

– night, stars and people

First of all you have to learn how to take pictures of the starry sky itself.

Now we don’t want to pay too much attention to different details of “star shooting” (perhaps we’ll write about it later, it all depends on the activity of our readers in the comments to this post), we mention only main points:

1. When shooting at night you have not enough light and at the same moment can’t make shutter speed longer than 30 seconds, due to the fact that stars “move” across the sky. Usually you set shutter speed at about 20-30 seconds to make stars remained bright.

Сравнение двух фотографий звёзд, снятых на разных выдержках.On the left the stars are blurred due to long exposure

2. But with such shutter speed there is not still enough light to make photo using classical landscape settings: ISO 100 and aperture f/8-f/16. We have to open the aperture (the typical values are: f/2 – f/5.6) and increase the sensitivity (ISO 400 – ISO 1600).

3. A trivial point, but without a tripod mission is impossible.

Let us assume that you managed to photograph a beautiful starry sky. How is it possible to add there a man?

Фотография человека на фоне звёздного неба.Canon EOS 5d mark II | Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM
ISO 1600 | f/4.0 | 20 s

Yes, it is necessary to illuminate him somehow. Usually available light sources are: the moon, flashlight, fire, vehicle headlights, flash. All these sources can be divided into two types: flash and permanent (all others).

Permanent light

With permanent light there is a very big problem – at long shutter speed person’s face is out of focus, as people are unable to stand or sit absolutely motionless for few seconds (few seconds that are needed for the study of capturing stars). So you either have to find a way to fix a person or use as lighting a flash light source.


It is very important to remove permanent light (from moon) from people’s faces, when you use flash light. Otherwise light from the flash will “compete” with the the light from the moon and you will get mixed light. Furthermore, on a moonlit night stars are less visible than on a moonless night.

Let’s now start shooting:

1. You place the camera on a tripod and takes a picture of the night sky without people. In our case, the settings were: 4.0 aperture, the shutter speed – 20 seconds, ISO 1600.

Звёздное небо, на котором виден Млечный ПутьCanon EOS 6d | Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM
ISO 1600 | f/4.0 | 20 s

An important limiting factor is the depth of field. As we remember, because of the lack of light you can not afford to set small apertures, so you have to use a wide-angle lenses and should dispose models away from the camera: so that people and stars are in the depth of field.

2. You dispose people (not close to the camera). Of course, you need a flashlight to control the composition.

3. Everything is ready for shooting: you just need a flash to illuminate the people. You can use built-in flash, but it will give “flat” light. If you have external flash, press the test button on it at any time until the shutter is opened (in this case: 20 seconds).

But we did not have external flash that time, and that is why used other camera with built-in flash: at such situation it is important to set manual focus (to prevent lighting our models by AF assist lamp) and make a shot in automatic mode. If the flash is too bright, you must either reduce its power or move it rather far off.

4. All you need now is to ask people to look into the camera, turn off all the lights, press the shutter button and at any time while the shutter is open, activate the flash (placing it in any place you want.)

Групповой портрет на фоне звёздного небаCanon EOS 6d | Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM
ISO 1600 | f/4.0 | 20 s

To soften the light, you can use softbox, photo umbrella, etc. But we did not have them at hand, so the light was hard and to be honest, because of this we are not quite satisfied with the result. Of course, you can use imagination  and create a softbox from tent), but we unfortunately did not have enough time.

Good luck!

2 thoughts on “How to make night portrait on sky background with stars

    1. Для смягчения вспышки? Безусловно :) Но толку от него будет мало, так как для освещения такого количества людей нужно далеко расположить вспышку, но увы, с увеличением расстояния свет становится всё жёстче.

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