Understanding Night Portrait Mode on Digital Cameras

Automatic modes, such as night portrait mode, are terrific tools to help beginners learn the basics of night photography. Utilizing automatic modes allow the novice photographer to take well composed night shots without the stress of constantly adjusting manual settings (due to changing lighting conditions). Auto modes allow the beginning photographer to learn important photography basics, while focusing on the subject and capturing the desired shot.

How to Use Night Portrait Mode

Camera manufacturers designed digital cameras to allow photographers to quickly and easily move between auto modes. Most cameras allow photographers to switch between modes by turning a dial on top of the camera. Night portrait mode is often depicted on the dial as a person with a star or moon in the background.

Why Use Night Portrait Mode?

Photographers taking pictures at night want to capture the subject and surrounding lighting conditions as naturally as possible. If the photographer were to set the camera to full auto mode, the camera's flash would cause the entire scene to appear unnaturally lit. Night portrait mode automatically slows the shutter speed to allow time for adequate light to hit the camera's sensor, as well as adjusts the timing of the flash to only illuminate the object or person in the foreground. The slower shutter speed, combined with the flash timing, helps to create more natural looking night shots.  

When to Use Night Portrait Mode

Night portrait mode is ideal for taking pictures of people or stationary objects at night. The mode allows the photographer to capture the nighttime atmosphere while providing enough light to show the subject's features. The timing of the flash in night portrait mode prevents the scene and the subject from appearing "blown out" or unnaturally lit.

Tips for Using Night Portrait Mode

Photographers should use a tripod and timer for best results in night portrait mode. In night portrait mode, the camera automatically sets a slow shutter speed and any movement of the camera will result in motion blur. Using a timer is helpful in preventing motion blur by preventing the camera from moving when the shutter is depressed. Photographers should also tell their subjects to be still for several seconds after the flash fires, allowing the shutter to fully close and preventing additionally blurring. To experiment creatively with night portrait mode, photographers can hold or move the camera to intentionally blur objects and lights.

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