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3-2  Available Light Photography

Available-light photography opens new doors to your creative talents.  Mastering the technique takes only a few rolls of film and careful attention to detail.  You will find that photography under available or existing light will be more realistic and preserve the mood just as you saw it.  Also, you can enhance the technical aspect by selecting the camera angle, auxiliary lighting and type of camera support. From the technical side to the creative, it still remains the cameraman's responsibility to get the picture.


Types of Available Light

There are five different kinds of available light: fluorescent, window, window light with fill, single-point incandescent and single-point incandescent with fill.

Fluorescent light. Fluorescent light is normally found in offices, schools and public buildings.  It is characterized by high overhead lighting that produces dark shadows under the eyes and other facial features.  You will want to take a meter reading to include some shadow reading.  Move in close and take your meter reading from a mid-tone skin area, such as a forearm or cheek.

Window lighting. Window lighting is normally one of the most pleasing and more beautiful types of lighting, when handled properly.  It is a strong creative light, characterized by harsh shadows and brilliant highlights across the facial features when in direct window light.  If you are lucky enough to have an overcast day, the effect is slightly different because the shadows soften much the same as in open shade.   Since the sky is overcast, most of the light falling on the subject is diffused.   Make your meter reading to include the shadow side of the face.  This will ensure proper shadow exposure and detail.  Be very careful about shooting into the window.  Two things can happen:

  • You may get a silhouette.  Normally this will not flatter your subject.

  • You could come up with flare, which is also unflattering.

You should try to make the most natural and pleasant photograph possible.  These types of lighting will help.

Window light with fill. This is just one step better than normal window light.   Your fill illuminator, whether a white card reflector or some nearby object reflecting light, will lighten the shadow areas and soften the harshness.  This produces a most pleasing effect as well as improving your photographic technique.   You will want to make a meter reading to include the shadow illuminator.  A large white card works well for illuminating; however, remember that any book or newspaper held in close proximity to the face will work.

Single-point incandescent. This is a familiar type of light found in household lamps and overhead ceiling lamps, characterized by very directional shadows with little or no shadow detail.  You will want to take your meter reading to include some shadow exposure.  Since this light is very directional, it also is highly moody.  If you find yourself shooting in a room where the light level is very low, you may wish to increase it by replacing the regular household bulb with a #2 photoflood (do this only when there is no danger of burning a lampshade).  Note: Most household fuse boxes will only take two or three of these 500-watt bulbs before blowing a fuse.

Single-point incandescent with fill. When you use fill light with incandescent light, you have a choice of using a white card reflector or another incandescent lamp (electronic flash would give a different, unnatural quality of light).  When using a bare bulb lamp, keep it at a distance so that it just adds some sparkle to the eyes and lightens the shadows.  In some cases, you will use a bulb in a reflector.  Do not aim the reflector directly at your subject.  Secondary shadows and overpowering of your main light will result.  Bounce the light off some nearby surface -- a wall, a ceiling, or white card.

Good lighting is important to obtain pleasing and lifelike results.  Informal available light photography carries with it all the technical aspects of formal studio portraits.  The application and desired result is sometimes slightly different.

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Publisher: SweetHaven Publishing Services

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