Dec 14, 2018

Colors and creativity go hand in hand in photography. Neon themed portrait shoot is a great example of this. You must have seen portraits with bright flashes of colors in the background or even in the foreground. Such portraits are called neon themed portraits. These look quite attractive and hence are often used in magazine cover shots, posters etc. In neon themed portraits you have the opportunity to be extremely creative with lights. The normal lighting setup rules of portrait photography are not entirely applicable in this genre.  However the concept of key lights and fill lights still remain the same. You will still require a bright light source to be your key light. With other less intense light sources, you will have to make the fill lights. Let us take a look at the process of shooting a neon theme portrait…



Image courtesy: Materialicious


The gear: The gear involved in this process is quite simple. Any dslr camera will suffice. Obviously it is more preferable to have a full frame version due to the superior low light handling capabilities. In case you can’t manage one, there is nothing to worry about since any entry level dslr camera will be able to do the job for you. Try to shoot with a fast lens. A fast lens is one whose aperture widens all the way up to f/1.4 or f/1.8 or even f/2.8. This wide aperture will get you the bokeh effect. A 50 mm f/1.4 or f/1.8 prime lens is definitely preferable. In case you cannot get hold of one, try using a telephoto zoom lens with the widest aperture possible. Zoom lenses with high focal lengths can also help you achieve the nice background blur. Apart from this basic gear, you will require a neon light source. A television is the best bet at home. In case you are planning to have the portrait session outdoors, any neon light board will do the job for you. Normally several cafes and restaurants have these neon light boards. The other really important thing required for this shoot is a reflecting object. This is not your common photography reflector. This can either be a prism or even a CD/DVD. You may even require a tripod if the light source is not that bright since you may have to shoot with very slow shutter speeds. Now that we have discussed the required gear, let us take a look at the actual process.

DIY tips for indoor neon themed portraits:

The first step is to have your lighting setup ready. The key light has to be a very colorful one. Switch on your television set and display some graphical image. This image must be having a set of attractive and desirable colors in it. Place your model beside the television set and get some test shots. This is going to give you a fair idea of the type of images you are going to get. Once you are done with this, take out all the reflectors you have. You can use a prism, a CD or even reflecting papers. Use a normal light reflector to reflect this light in case you require later. A tripod is always advised since you may have to shoot with slow shutter speeds. You can even use an external flash and bounce it off your prism or CD to introduce even more colors.

Choose the theme you want to portray. Select the colors you want to have in your neon portrait. Get some graphic images pertaining to these colors. Display the image on your television set or computer screen. Control the brightness of the screen to get the neon glow. Make sure that the model is close enough to the screen to have all the colors on his / her face. This is basically your key light. In order to light up the other half of the face, you will need an external flash. Fire this directly on to the shining face of the CD. The reflecting light will be quite colorful. You can also get creative and place the prism just in front of your lens to introduce the blurry sort of effect. The most used sets of exposure triangle parameters are as follows:

  1. Aperture f/2.8, Shutter speed 1/125th of a second, ISO 100/200 with an external flash fired with half the intensity of the key light.

  2. Aperture f/1.4, Shutter speed 1/250th of a second, ISO 100/200 with an external flash fired with half the intensity of the key light.

Another important thing you need to keep in mind is the sync speed of all your flashes. I prefer the 1/200th of a second to keep all flashes in sync.


The basics: The basics of portrait photography have to be in place when you are shooting neon portraits. The depth of field is actually the single most important aspect of your portrait shots. The depth of field majorly depends on 3 things. First is the aperture of the lens. Wide open apertures will give very shallow depth of fields. Focal length of the lens is the second parameter. Larger focal lengths result in shallow depth of field too. Make sure the camera to subject distance is not too large. The greater this distance is, the larger the depth of field will be. The shutter speed will actually depend on your model. For kids, the shutter speed need to be fast in order to freeze all their unexpected movements. The ISO should always be kept at minimum to remove any chances of unwanted noise. It’s always better to keep the ISO at 100 and try getting the perfect exposure by adjusting the aperture and shutter speed.


Portrait photography demands a lot of creativity in order to make sure that you stand out of the crowd. One such way to do this is by using neon themed portraits. The bright and beautiful colors in neon portraits look very attractive and grab a lot of attention. Go out there and start shooting neon themed portraits!