The Craft of Photography, Number 4 – Working with Available Light

Photo by Mark Bergin

Advantages of working with available light:

  • You work with what you’ve got for a greater sense of realism.
  • You don’t have to carry heavy lighting equipment and stands, only a monopod or tripod.
  • You can shoot quickly.
  • You can move freely.
  • You’ll be more unobtrusive or completely hidden / This is more relaxing for the subject if he or she knows you are there.

Disadvantages of working with available light:

  • You won’t get the “perfection” of studio images / you sacrifice technical “perfection”.
  • You’re usually working with lower light than usual.
  • Sacrifice the highlight and shadows.
  • Your eyes see more than the photo will.

What you need to work with available light:

  • Use a fast lens (2.8 or better)
  • Use fast film or digital capture / ISO 1600 or 3200.
  • Equipment can make a difference.
  • Manual focus may be required.
  • Get in freakin’ shape. Exercise. Use weights to build up arm strength.
  • Brace yourself and/or camera. Use a wall to brace yourself, a tripod or monopod for camera.

Fast lenses – those lenses that capture a great deal of light and, therefore, allow you to shoot at as fast a shutter speed as possible.

  • A “fast” lens has a larger-than-average maximum aperture (f/2.8 and greater).
  • It allows you to use faster shutter speeds.
  • This is why professional sports photographers use them.
  • But, you’re going to pay a premium price; these things are not cheap.
  • You can get away with a monopod/tripod in low light (but for action, that fast lens is a must).

Which film/digital capture speed to use?

  • This depends where you are.
  • If you’re shooting outdoor sports, 100 ISO is quite common.
  • Indoors, don’t be afraid of ISO 1600 – it can give you a huge amount of “speed”
  • Indoor theatre, 400 – 1600
  • Better to have a 3200 ISO grainy image than a completely blurred ISO 400 image

About Mark Aidan Bergin

Writer, editor, photographic artist specializing in dance, theater, concert, fashion and street photography....sometimes musician. Explorer of arts, culture and world, and all things Celtic and Gotham. On a good day, or perhaps a bad day, simply a mad (FOOBAR, not angry) scientist.
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