Ambient Light

Ambient light photography is simply photography that makes use of available or ambient light. In other words, it is photography that does not use flashes or light kits. Keep reading to learn more about ambient light photography.

Sources of Ambient Light

Ambient light can come from any of the following:

  • candlelight
  • incandescent indoor lights
  • lamplight
  • moonlight
  • sunlight.

While a photographer is certainly limited when working with only ambient light, photographs taken in ambient light can be truly unique and interesting.

Using Ambient Light

In order to use available light most effectively, a photographer must learn to see light and its sources. While this might sound difficult, it”s easy with a little practice. To become more aware of light, make yourself notice ambient light in your daily activities and think of ways in which you could use it in a photograph.

For instance, maybe the afternoon sunlight shining through your window blinds at work creates an interesting pattern on your desk. To practice ambient light photography, you could try to translate that effect in a photo.

Ambient Light: The Impact of Time and Weather

Time of day significantly affects ambient light. Sunlight in the morning and evening has a softness that differs greatly from the sharp light of the midday sun. Try taking a picture of the same subject in the same location at different times of day to view the different properties of sunlight at different times of day.

Weather also has a direct impact on ambient light. For instance, the number of clouds in the sky will have an effect on ambient light. A gentle rain also changes ambient lighting, as does snowfall. In addition, fog can turn the harsh glare of a streetlight into a soft glow. All of these factors increase the photographic possibilities of ambient light.

Limitations of Ambient Light

Ambient light photography does have some limitations, especially when done indoors. For instance, incandescent indoor lights can be too harsh, while florescent lights often give photographs a green tinge.

No matter how bright the available indoor ambient light, photographers often have to rely on flashes or extra lighting. However, this does not mean that ambient light photography has no place indoors, only that photographers must learn when there is sufficient ambient light and when extra lighting is required.

Camera Settings and Ambient Light

When practicing ambient photography, you”ll want to keep the following camera setting tips in mind:

  • Ambient light photography, especially when done indoors, often requires that you set your camera for low light conditions.
  • Low ambient light requires slow shutter speeds and fast film.
  • Slow shutter speeds increase the risk of blurry images due to shaky hands, so tripods are recommended for low ambient light.

Reflecting Ambient Light

While true ambient light photography only uses available light, this doesn”t mean that the photographer cannot manipulate the light that is available. You can often use a piece of white construction paper or cardboard to redirect the available light onto your subject. For best results, the white cardboard should be at least 8 1/2 by 11 inches.

You can also use mirrors, aluminum foil and other natural reflectors to get the maximum use out of ambient light. Each reflector has its own individual affect on the photograph. A frosted mirror, for example, will have a different effect on reflected ambient light than a piece of cardboard covered with tin foil. Experiment until you find the reflectors you prefer.

You can use reflected ambient light to illuminate a subject”s face or flower petals or even to generate a spooky atmosphere. Reflecting ambient light often produces a subtle effect, but it can make the difference between a good ambient light photograph and a great one.