Shooting in Ambient Light

In photography, we cannot present an image without the use of light. The type of light we decide to use is what makes the process an exercise in creativity as much as skill. There is lighting which we deliberately set up to illuminate the subject, mainly flash units and light kits. Then there is ambient light, also known as available light, which already exists in the scene.

Examples of ambient light sources are sunlight, moonlight, candles, lamplights, incandescent lights and streetlights. One of the main advantages of ambient lighting is that it is often free and readily available since it is already found in the environment where you will shoot. The trick is to familiarize yourself its properties and the various ways they can light up the subject matter. Sunlight, for example, can illuminate the same subject in hundreds of ways depending on the time and the weather. Its intensity can vary from the harsh light on a cloudless noon hour to the very soft and diffused light on a misty morning.

 There are limitations to ambient lighting since it can be difficult to control. These light sources may be immovable, unpredictable, or out of reach. You might encounter low light conditions, especially at night or indoors. To compensate, set your camera at a low light setting such as slower shutter speeds or larger aperture. A tripod would come in handy, or at least place the camera on a steady surface when making the shots. There are times when you will have only one light source. If you want more light to fall on your subject, try using a reflector to bounce back some of the light. These can be mirrors, aluminum foil, white cardboard, and the like. These reflectors have different effects and the light from a mirror will not be the same as the light when using a white cardboard. Why not have one of each and experiment with what works best for you for that particular shot. 

Ambient light can create a strong mood in the shot since it is a natural element of the scene. Aside from providing illumination, it can also help tell the story or drive home the concept you want to present. By including the light source, for instance, you are introducing a prop which can support the emotional impact of the subject. The ambient light source can even be the subject itself. Certain ambient light sources, such as indoor incandescent light bulbs, leave a strong color cast that, if presented well, can further impact the mood of the shot. The more you practice using ambient lighting in your shots, the more aware you will become of its versatility and can then make full use of this fact.

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