Available light photography made simple

What is available light photography? This is with special reference to portraiture as that is mainly what I do.

Available light photography is the form of photography where, as the term suggests, one captures an image in available light with or without the help of reflectors and/or diffusers. Some call it ambient light photography but it matters not as the means and the end results are the same.

The introduction of digital cameras and the ability to shoot in RAW format have allowed us more latitude in exploring this form of photography. The usual approach is to expose around the highlights and allow the shadows to fall into place. Shooting in RAW allows one to correct the white balance and some errors in exposure quite easily with minimal effect on the captured file. I will talk about RAW format and how I tackle it in another post.

Why I like available light photography especially in portraiture is because it allows me to add drama to my images and with the post-processing that I do the end results can be very dramatic and even 3D-like.

So what type of lighting is the best for this form of photography? Early morning and late evening lighting are generally the best. However these times are not always possible as they are quite transient and we have to deal with the weather which sometimes spoils any elaborate plans. One can still do a good session in broad daylight with the help of shades, reflectors and diffusers.

Parasol as a diffuser. Black arrows show direction of mid afternoon sunlight.



White reflector used to reflect morning glow to the face.



What equipment does one need? The following are what I use:

1. Any camera with good high ISO performance. Remember we are doing available light. Sometimes some very low lighting can be very dramatic. That is where high ISO is needed to get a decent shutter speed and exposure.

2. Fast lenses of at least f/2.8. Besides being able to shoot wide open to capture more light, one can play with shallow depth of field.

3. Reflectors. This will help reflect light to appropriate areas if so required. I have used commercially available reflectors as well as make-shift ones like white cardboards, mirrors, and car sun-shades (which are often made of reflective materials).

4. Diffusers. In the event of harsh lighting one can use diffusers to control this. Diffusers come in many forms. I always use make-shift ones e.g shawls, leaves etc.

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