Available Light

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I'm like the man in the joke who spends hours looking for his lost keys under the streetlight, instead of down the darkened street where the keys can be found.

Actually, that's what we do in available-light photography: look for the interesting light, then figure out how to use it to make an interesting picture. After all, most of what we like about those after-dark pictures is the haunting, unexpected character of the light creating brooding scenes that seem to reveal the world.


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  • Available Light?

They're not necessarily about the seamy underbelly of life, but there is always the hint that we are eavesdropping. Before I begin in earnest I should make a small confession: I made an additional calculation on taking this available-light picture at a hacienda outside San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. I didn't cheat, per se, but I'm just not making full disclosure by calling it available light.

Selected Works

And I'll explain why in just a bit. Why not just use a tripod, you may be asking? Because available light is about life. Moments of truth are fleeting. Tripods make you slow. What was the trick I alluded to earlier when I photographed the girl in the Mexican shop? I waited until she came over by the door where soft light from the fading sunset lit her beautifully. I didn't follow her around. I found the nice light and waited for the picture to happen there.

Like the man under the streetlight, I looked for my keys where the light was better. Shooting With Available Light In available-light photography, pro Jim Richardson says, you look for the interesting light, then figure out how to use it to make an interesting picture.


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  5. So let me offer a few tips about taking successful pictures when the light gets low:. Follow the light. If he was a photographer, the guy looking for his keys under the streetlight had the right idea. Find the light and you'll probably find the picture. Certainly that was the case when I was wandering Arles in Provence several years ago and found that the town had covered all the streetlights with pink filters for a fashion festival.

    Now that was great light, even if there wasn't a lot of it. A tripod can fix that. The same goes for photographing an Irish pub find one with nice light or the streets of New York Times Square is actually very bright. Balance the light. Contrast is your enemy.

    Available Light

    The big problem is not necessarily that it is dark we'll talk about that in a minute but that the scene is so bright in some places and dark in others. The range from light to dark is simply more than the camera can handle well. So start training your eye to recognize where the light from all the sources is fairly well balanced. Suddenly your pictures will start looking rich and colorful. Go with a faster lens.

    Leica Nocturnal Film

    Big f-stops deliver more light. In addition, the shallow depth of field combined with the low light of the scene means that getting a sharp focus is exceedingly tough. Consider using a prime lens. If that phrase isn't familiar to you, it just means a non-zoom lens. They almost always have a faster f-stop and, hence, will do better in low light. There are two other reasons why prime lenses are the available-light photographers' friends.

    First, they are smaller and easier to handle, making working in tight situations more natural. Second, they generally have less flare. This is important in available-light situations where the photographer is dealing with several light sources in the picture, like streetlights in the background or lightbulbs in the jazz club.

    They work better "against" the light. Maximize your ISO. By clicking 'Sign me up' I acknowledge that I have read and agree to the privacy policy and terms of use. Must redeem within 90 days. See full terms and conditions and this month's choices. Tell us what you like, so we can send you books you'll love. Sign up and get a free eBook! Available Light By Dayton Ward. Trade Paperback.

    Remain in Light

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