8 Tips for Capturing Portraits Under The Stars

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Capturing portraits under the stars can result in breathtaking and ethereal photographs. Combining celestial beauty and human presence creates a unique and magical atmosphere. However, shooting images at night comes with its own set of challenges. This article will explore eight essential tips to help you capture stunning photographs under the stars.

The following images are provided by the award-winning photographers in the Wedding Maps directory and displayed with permission.

Schedule the Shoot During Clear Skies

Photo by Jessie and Dallin (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Bonneville Salt Flats in UT, USA

To ensure the stars take center stage in your portraits, it’s crucial to choose a night with clear skies. Clouds can obstruct the view of the stars and hinder the overall impact of your photographs. Check weather forecasts using your weather app and plan your shoot on a night when the sky is clear and free of clouds.

Photo by Geoff Photography (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Tinajitas Hills in San Ramón, Costa Rica

Schedule the Shoot When the Moonlight Doesn’t Overpower the Scene

Photo by Stefani Ciotti (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Deer Creek Ridge in Malibu, CA, USA

While the moon can add a beautiful touch to your night portraits, it can also overpower the stars if it’s too bright. Keep an eye on the moon phase and select a night when the moon is less luminous. This way, the stars will have a chance to shine brightly and create a stunning backdrop for your subjects.  You can research the position of the moon with various apps and websites.

Pick a Location Without Light Pollution From Cities

Photo by Sarah Goff Photography (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at The Barn at Sunset Ranch in Buena Vista, Colorado, USA

Light pollution from nearby cities can significantly diminish the visibility of stars in your photographs. To capture clear and vibrant starry skies, venture away from areas with excessive artificial lighting. Find a remote location, preferably in the countryside or wilderness, where the natural darkness allows the stars to shine brilliantly.

Consider Scouting and Planning Your Photo Before Dark

Photo by Angie Nelson (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) On the side of the highway in Kona, Hawaii Island, USA

Scouting and planning your photo shoot during the day can greatly contribute to the success of your photo shoot. Visit the location beforehand to familiarize yourself with the surroundings and identify potential compositions. Look for interesting elements that can complement your subjects and enhance the overall narrative of the photograph.

Scouting before darkness also ensures safety for you and your clients.

Use the Right Gear

Photo by Jessie and Dallin (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Little Sahara Sand Dunes in UT, USA

When shooting portraits under the stars, having the right equipment is crucial. Use a low aperture lens, preferably with a wide-angle focal length, to capture a wider view of the night sky. A low aperture (such as f/2.8 or wider) will allow more light to enter the lens, resulting in brighter stars. 

Use a low aperture lens, preferably with a wide-angle focal length, to capture a wider view of the night sky.

Additionally, a sturdy tripod is helpful to keep your camera stable during long exposures.  Also, a full-frame camera with great dynamic range will allow you maximum flexibility when processing your photos.

Photo by Jen DZ Photography (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)

Expose for the Stars First Before Posing Your Subjects

Photo by Lazzat Photography (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Holland Farms in Milton, FL, USA

Before introducing your subjects to the scene and adding any artificial lighting, it’s essential to find the right exposure for the stars. Experiment with different settings to achieve a balanced exposure where the stars appear vivid and the sky retains its depth and richness. This will serve as the foundation for your final composition.

Use Flash to Freeze the Subject

Photo by Angie Nelson (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Haleakala National Park in Maui, Hawaii, USA

When including human subjects in your night portraits, using flash can help freeze their movements and ensure sharpness. A burst of flash will illuminate your subjects while preserving the ambient starry background. Experiment with the flash’s intensity and position to achieve a natural and well-balanced lighting effect.

Photo by Photo by Larissa Welch (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)

Instruct the Subject to Hold Very Still

Photo by In Love and Adventure (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Public Lands, Colorado in Buena Vista, Colorado, US

Long exposures are often necessary when capturing portraits under low-light conditions. Communicate with your subjects and instruct them to remain as still as possible during the exposure. This will prevent unwanted motion blur and ensure their presence is sharp and well-defined in the final image.

Photo by Lin and Jirsa (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)

Consider the Blue Hour Aesthetic

While the focus of capturing portraits under the stars is usually on the night sky, it’s important not to overlook the beauty of the blue hour. The blue hour is the period of twilight before sunrise or after sunset when the sky takes on a deep blue hue. Although the stars may not be as prominent during this time, the soft, ethereal lighting can create a captivating and dreamy atmosphere for your portraits.

Photo by Lets Make a Memory (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Serendipity Gardens in Oak Glen, CA, USA

Photo by Kivus and Camera (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at The Ridge Asheville in Asheville, North Carolina, United States

Photo by SMJ Photography (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at John Wright Restaurant in Wrightsville, PA, USA

Other Examples of Portraits Under the Stars

When it comes to capturing portraits under the stars, the possibilities are seemingly endless. Here are a few additional examples of creative approaches to inspire your own night photography:

Photo by Maddness Photography (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Backyard Wedding in Greenvile, SC, United States

Photo by Larsen Photo Co (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Arapaho National Forest in Colorado, USA

Photo by JCM Photography (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Alexander Homestead Weddings in Charlotte, NC, United States

Technically Imperfect Can Still Work

Remember, perfection is not always the goal in photography. Embrace the artistic possibilities and embrace imperfections that can arise when shooting portraits under the stars. A little bit of blur or movement can add a dreamy and mystical quality to your photographs, as long as it complements the overall mood and storytelling.

A little bit of blur or movement can add a dreamy and mystical quality to your photographs, as long as it complements the overall mood and storytelling.


Capturing portraits under the stars is a rewarding and awe-inspiring experience. By following these eight essential tips, you can overcome the challenges associated with shooting in low-light conditions and create stunning images that blend the beauty of the night sky with the presence of your subjects. Remember to plan carefully, use the right gear, and experiment with different techniques to achieve captivating portraits that will leave a lasting impression on viewers.

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