Available Light Photography

Not every photoshoot takes place on a sunny day, or during the day at all. When the lights go out, it may seem intuitive to grab your flash or break out the portable strobes, but using the light that’s still available can create some great dramatic effects in your images. Here we’ll share some ideas on how to accomplish this.


If you can still see your surroundings with your eyes (and even if you can’t), there is a way to capture an image with a camera without a flash or strobes. All you need to do is choose your subject, play with your Manual settings a bit, and maybe set up a tripod.

Available Light

Available or “ambient” light is whatever lighting exists in your environment that you are not producing. This can be light from a window, lamp, neon sign or television. Utilizing the light already existing in your environment gives it a more authentic feel. It looks as if the subject really is watching their favorite show in the dark or shooting pool in a smoky bar, completely absent of the presence of a photographer.


Slow Your Shutter

Available light is often dimmer than strobes. You’ll need to adjust your settings. Raising your ISO will work, but will create grain or “noise” in your image. You want to have a wide (low-number) aperture, and then lower your shutter speed accordingly. Even for still subjects that aren’t moving, it becomes difficult to hand-hold your camera without blurring the image at around 1/20th of a second. If you need to go slower than this shutter speed to get a bright enough exposure, put the camera on a tripod. With a long enough exposure any scene will appear bright.


Moving Targets

A long exposure of a moving subject will leave you with a blurred trail or “ghosting,” but this can be used to your advantage. As long as one element of your scene remains completely still (perhaps a single person, or a well-lit sign) the other blurred motion implies activity. Alternatively, combining a longer exposure with a flash can freeze your subject at one moment and capture the rest of their movement after. This method is popular with fire performance photography.


Light Painting

“Light painting” is a technique where you trigger a long exposure, and while the camera is recording the image, you “paint” your subject with a flashlight or other light source. When the image is recorded, whatever areas were painted will appear brightly exposed. You can utilize various colors and light various portions of the scene to bring attention to them. This is also how “light writing” is done.


And there you have it, dark photography without (or with minimal) flash. Try these ideas out for yourself and see how they affect your images. Experiment in different environments, get creative and have fun. Also, follow us on Instagram and Facebook to see more of our own lighting variations and ideas around Tampa.


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