Dade Freeman
Photographer & Trainer
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Night photoshoot in Brighton

On Friday night I took part in a photoshoot organised by Andrew Appleton with the talented Zara Watson modelling for us. Not only did she brave the cold, but also the drunken onlookers as she walked and posed along the streets of Brighton.

Starting off in Marwoods coffee shop, the group of five photographers got to know each other a little better before Andrew introduced the concept for the evening and talked about the techniques we would be using. Coffee drunk and suitably perked up, we headed off to the pier.

Backlit portrait of Zara Watson

The sun was starting to set behind the buildings in the background though there was no real colour in the sky yet - that was to come. So rather than using flash, I opted to overexpose the shot using the backlight to flood the image. In post-processing, I could have boosted the contrast but I liked the fact Zara looked angelic and lost in the moment.

Portrait of Zara Watson

For this shot, we used a Lencarta battery pack and large softbox to illuminate Zara, and make her 'pop' a little more from the background.

Portrait of Zara Watson in Brighton

With the sun rapidly setting, the challenge was to balance the ambient light to capture the hues in the sky. By using the battery pack and large softbox to illuminate our model, I underexposed the background to really accentuate those colours.

Woman in blue dress

By simply turning Zara around to face into the sun, we were able to capture a natural light portrait of our subject as the sun set.

Woman on the streets of Brighton

Having made the best of the sunset, we heading into The Lanes to find some nice spaces, reasonably well illuminated by the surrounding lights, for Zara to pose in. Finding suitable areas was fairly easy as shops frequently leave their window lights on. Finding nice quiet spots on a Friday night was another challenge altogether.

Woman posing like a mannequin 

Nipping into a small courtyard in The Lanes, we found there was plenty of potential in that area. I noticed that the lighting was very mixed - yellows, whites, fluorescent etc. When faced with this, I typically shoot in black and white to avoid the colour clashes and horrid tones. Once I had picked a nice spot for Zara, I got her to pose mocking the mannequins in the shop window. 

Close Up of female eyes

Getting in close is another thing I like to do, and in this instance the shadows of the eyelashes were what appealed to me. Having switched lenses, I moved in close to get this shot.

Woman posing at night

Sometimes the challenge can be finding the light and knowing how best to work with it. Here you can see the green shutters were being hit with a white light from above, but off to the right of the image were yellow street lamps which cast a red glow onto the shutter. Once Zara stepped into that background, the shot came alive.

Mean looking woman

Having found such an interesting spot we worked this area quite a bit using leading lines, angles and various poses. Here you can see that just by shifting the tones slightly, the image looks and feels quite different.

Bokeh and dancing woman

Of course you are not only limited by what you see in front of you. For this shot, I got Zara to turn around quickly, flinging her hair, and with the coloured lines in the background, I thought it looked like she was at a disco. Keeping that in mind, when I edited this image I took an existing shot of bokeh and layered it on top, making the movement and dance feel even stronger. It also brought the added advantage of brightening up the image.

Zara Watson looking up

By changing my position and moving Zara across just a foot or so, the red colour cast was removed. With a nice solid green background and Zara looking up to remove any nasty shadows from her face, all that was left was for her to pose for the camera. 

Woman in the dark

And finally, we had Zara go to an alley-way and stand slightly away from the illuminated shop window. As I was able to get enough light onto her, I also managed to pick up the colours in the background, reflected off the shop windows.

All the shots away from the beach were taken by using fairly high ISOs (1600, 3200) and handheld, using the 5DMKII with the 70-200 2.8L and 85 1.8 lenses. 

Andrew frequently runs events which you can book from his website and if you would like to hear more from the man himself, Stephen Cotterell has an upcoming interview with Andrew for his Photography 121 podcast.

A massive thanks to Zara for her professionalism and to Andrew for organising the event. I am interested to see what the others managed to capture. It was a great night, and nice to see the streets of Brighton in a 'different light'. 


Dade Freeman is a Brighton photographer producing portraits and headshots for actors, musicians, corporate business and other professional industries.