Available Light Mode

I’m not talking about a setting on the camera (although that could be cool), I’m talking about a setting in my brain.

My background is in studio photography. My very first shoot was a product shoot for a tech company. Most of my fashion was done in the studio or at an indoor location. When someone says “photo shoot”, I automatically think “lights”.

I did a corporate headshot recently in the office of the company president. I brought my lighting case and started setting up lights with soft boxes. The president was duly impresses and uttered, “All this for me?”. I made adjustments and started taking some photos. I couldn’t get the shallow depth of field I wanted because there was so much light I had to stop down. I finished when I felt I had enough good shots and turned off the lights. I pulled one of the soft boxes away and noticed some good light coming through the window. I set up my bounce so the subject was between the window and the bounce. I asked if we could take a few more and was able to set the f-stop wide open and get the look I wanted. Of the two, I definitely like elements of the the natural light portrait better, especially the bokeh in the background. Unfortunately, the lighting one turned out sharper.

Portrait on the left was with studio lighting, on the right with available light.

I can’t say I regret setting up the lights because it made for a nice presentation, but in the end, it’s the image that matters. I could have most impressive lighting set-up in the world, but if the final image doesn’t impress, I’m not going to get any repeat business.

I brought all my lights to a recent shoot for a tea company, mostly because it was a last minute shoot and I didn’t know what to expect. As soon as I got to the location, I knew I would leave my lights in the car and pulled out my 5-in-1 bounce. I used the bounce sparingly because the light was so perfect where we were shooting. Here's an example of using the reflector to bounce some warm light into the scene.

An uncorrected image shot only with available light.

An uncorrected image shot with a 5-in-1 reflector giving a warmer 'sunrise' tone.

I’ve heard other photographers talk about using natural light whenever possible and only resorting to lights when absolutely necessary. I’m starting to think in that direction.

I’m honest enough to admit that some of it has to do with ego. Early on, I felt that the thing that set me apart from an amateur photographer was my equipment, especially my lighting. It is a very dangerous mindset to get into. The image is what matters.

So now I’m consciously changing my mindset to think natural lighting first. I’m switching my brain into available light mode.


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