Available light photography – looking for good light
When shooting for fun on location with a model, and have the time, I have this personal challenge – to find interesting sources of light. Those spots of found light where a little bit of magic happens. This photo of Anastasiya was taken in Grand Central, New York. While the station’s architecture is impressive, the light levels there are very low, and quite flat. It’s a place you want to take photos at, because it is so beautiful inside – but it is a challenge. The light there just don’t lend itself to good portraits in an obvious way.
Always on the hunt for these unexpected and interesting sources of light, I saw the Apple logo on the staircase leading up to the Apple Store. A beacon to the mother ship! It shone bright enough that we could use it surreptitiously as a main light for our model when posing her in a certain spot on the stairs. Suddenly she popped out from the more drably light surroundings.
The main image at the top was done with the Sony A7 iii camera (B&H / Amazon), using the impressive (and very affordable) Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 lens (B&H / Amazon). I love that little lens because it is razor sharp wide open.
- 1/100 @ f/1.8 @ 3200 ISO
Of the two smaller photos here, the one is of the lit Apple logo that gave us that extra bump of light. The other is of Grand Central – which is underexposed at 1/40 @ f/4 @ 3200 ISO. While the two exposures (the station and of Anastasiya) don’t seem to differ substantially, there wasn’t enough light on Anastasiya here. This is where this extra bit of light from the logo makes the difference, and helps to make her pop out even more from the background.
- Using interesting available light & White Balance options (model: Olena)
- Photographing with available light only (dancer: Anna)
- Available light portraits (model: Nikki)
- Observing and using the available light (model: Anelisa)
- Photography tip: available light portraits – finding that sweet spot (model: Irene)
5 Comments, Add Your Own
1Valent Lau says
I see you get a lot of great photos in this location. Do you get bumped around by security guards? I know when we have a big camera and don’t look like tourists, near any major landmarks here we get moved on or asked for a permit.
2Neil vN says
We noticeably got bumped during the filming of the review of the Profoto B2 flash. But not when we did the review of the Profoto B10 flash. But we just got lucky the 2nd time.
Whenever I have taken photos there with just me and a model, working fairly surreptitiously, we haven’t been approached. There was one elopement wedding, where the security did ask us to move along — and I have to admit that we were on the stairs, and should have known not to. My mistake.
2.1Cam Wells says
Any sessions or tips that you can share that focuses on shooting people of color or darker complexion people?
2.1.1Neil vN says
Hi there Cam … darker complexions can be a challenge. The instinct is to bump up the exposure, but then you risk losing some of the highlights.
So while I might give flash or ambient exposure an extra 1/3rd stop bump when I take the photo, I control the tonality of the darker skin tones during post-processing of the RAW file. Then I pull the Shadow detail up a lot.
If I feel that the individual’s skin needs to be a touch lighter still, then I use the local correction brush on the person’s face … for every photograph.
3Edmund Shum says
I’m so used to using flash, it’s sometimes difficult with available light, so this is a great insight – thanks!