Night Portraits and Big City Lights

When you take night portraits against a background of brilliant city lights, you want both the lights in the background and the faces of the people to appear equally bright in the picture. Fortunately, you can easily shoot such pictures with Olympus cameras featuring the SCENE mode, simply by selecting [NIGHT+PORTRAIT] mode. But there are a variety of other tricks for taking pictures of people and city lights.

The Right Mode

When you use the flash with the Program Auto (P) shooting mode, the camera uses faster shutter speeds to avoid blur. Since the background is not sufficiently lit, it will appear in the picture darker than it does to the eye. Try using [NIGHT+PORTRAIT] mode in cameras that feature this [SCENE] mode. In this mode, the shutter speed is slower. As a result, the background will appear brighter in the picture. This photography technique is called slow synchronization. Since slower shutter speeds are used, remember to use a tripod to avoid blur. If the subject moves while you take the picture you'll get subject blur, so your subject should remain as still as possible.

Compare the effect of different shooting modes on how the background looks in the picture.

Program Auto (P)

Picture taken in Program Auto (P) mode: shutter speed at 1/30


Picture taken in [NIGHT+PORTRAIT] mode: shutter speed at 1/2

Avoiding Shadows from Your Lens

When you use the built-in flash, pay attention to the lens you use. When you have a lens hood attached, use large diameter wide-angle lenses or longer telephoto lens or zoom, a shadow can be cast on the subject. This happens because the light of the flash can be partly obstructed by the lens and casts a shadow on the subject. Avoid this by removing the lens hood, zooming towards the telephoto end and by keeping some distance between you and the subject, or using a dedicated hot shoe flash.


11 mm (11-22 mm F2.8-3.5). The shadow of the lens appears on the person.


14 mm (14-54 mm F2.8-3.5). The shadow is hardly noticeable.


14 mm (14-54 mm F3.5-5.6). The lens diameter is small so no shadows appear, even at the same focal distance.

Stop Seeing Red

One common problem of flash photography is the red-eye phenomenon. In the dark, the pupils of the eyes dilate to allow you to see better. But when a flash is directed at the dilated pupils, the blood vessels in the eye reflect the light resulting in the red-eye effect. You can greatly reduce this by using the [Red-eye reduction flash] mode. Or, try one of the following to reduce red eye:

  • Have the subject look at a streetlight or some bright spot until just before you release the shutter.
  • Have them look somewhere other than directly at the camera.
  • Use an external flash so the light source is farther from the center of the lens.

Picture taken with normal flash.
Red-eye phenomenon occurred.

Picture taken with Red-eye reduction flash. Red-eye phenomenon reduced.

Picture taken with Red-eye reduction flash. Additionally, the subject is not looking directly at the camera. No red eyes.

The Gloaming

Taking pictures of night scenes doesn't necessarily mean you should shoot when it is completely dark. Pictures taken at dusk -- right after the sun sets and the sky is still slightly illuminated -- often produce a deep blue sky, rather than a flat black one. This time is best not only for pictures that include people but also when shooting cityscapes.

Compare how the background appears in the picture.

Picture taken right after sunset still with some light in the sky.

Picture taken after total dark.

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