Ep 69: Slim pickings: How to create amazing images using only available light


As photographers, we can find ourselves in sticky positions where conditions are less than ideal. So what happens when you find yourself on a shoot where you don’t have enough gear or lights – but you have to make do with the light that’s available? No point cursing or rescheduling. Instead, you need to look at the available light and see what you can do with what you have got.

In this episode, Gina and Valerie focus on the thought processes you should go through to create amazing images when you have no choice but to only use available light. You’ll also find great examples in the show notes that reveal what’s possible in these situations.

#ginachallenge #slimpickings

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Show notes

Listener question

workers shot by Frank McAtee

Above: Shot by Frank McAtee

Hi Gina and Val.

Really excited to be a part of the community. Gina has said that for some people sharing their work is scary. That’s why I have an ongoing photo project on Facebook that I haven’t put my name on it. So I’m biting the bullet and asking for your thoughts on it,if you get a chance. It’s called Haulin’ America. I’m trying to put faces to the men and women behind the wheel of the trucks that move everything. I have to shoot outside so no control of the light. They’re not posed, I tell them what I’m trying to do and they do their thing. When I crop I try to keep something in the background to indicate truck driver.

Any tips would be appreciated. I use a Sony a5000 mostly on aperture priority but have used manual on a few.

Thank you both for your time,

Gina and Valerie respond to Frank’s question in the episode.

Shout outs

Speakers shot by Mike Hickman and then altered in post

Above: By Mike Hickman

Here is my submission from an event I shot last week. I used my Gossen Luna-Pro F to get my exposure, changed the camera settings and then shot my WhiBal White Balance Card in each room I would be shooting in and then enjoyed a cup of coffee. When the event began, I shot away and editing was breeze. As for the speaker that came out from behind the podium, that was a different story.
First photo tungsten. Second photo florescent. Third photo mixed florescent and daylight. I also did some setting changes in LR but white balance was custom to the card in each set of shots.

Eoin Ó Breasláin (Ireland)

Irish shoreline shot by eoin o braeslain

Eoin O Braeslain Irish Shoreline 2

Above: Shot by Eoin Ó Breasláin

Long-time listener, first time poster. Some low light (and later NO light) pix taken on the beach near my house on Wicklow coast in Ireland. Couple of years old at this stage but … well… it’s been raining ever since!! It was pitch-dark by the time I got to the mono shot so I painted a little bit of light on the foreground with a pen light i had in my bag during a 30 second exposure . I think (and hope) i’ve improved technically and compositionally since but would love some feedback before trying again.
‪#‎ginachallenge‬ ‪#‎lowlight‬

EP 69: Slim pickings:How to create amazing images with available light only

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Theodore Roosevelt

Fill flash, studio lighting, continuous lighting, reflectors, and cutters can take an image from meh to amazing.

The problem with having all these awesome tools is that we can easily forget to see what’s happening in a shot and miss the subtle, natural, available light.

  • Discovering artificial lighting is like finding Nutella for the first time
  • Amazing daylight beats manufactured light every time
  • Always relying on fill or artificial can give your shots a same, same, clinical look
  • Spending a day or a week, month, year only using available is a fantastic way to develop your shooting style and the ability to see light.
  • Once you start to experiment, there will be no situation you won’t be able to deal with.

Available light definition
Photographing images only using whatever light source is available at that exact moment

1. Look for the good light

2. Lens choice matters

  • wide for doco style
  • long feels more intimate
  • fast lens will squeeze every bit of light out of a shot

3. Expose for the hero and let the rest go

4. Pick your moments

  • Wait for someone to step into the light
  • Bring someone into to shot and set it up
  • Backlighting can be beautiful if you expose for the skin and let the background blow out

5. Watch out for:

  • down lights
  • colours reflecting from shelters, umbrellas or nearby buildings and poles
  • clothes that reflect on to the skin.

6. Some other suggestions

  • Car headlights
  • Sun reflected off a building
  • Fluoro advertising signs or lightboxes
  • Shafts of sunlight
  • Hard sun

All photos below are by Gina Milicia

female surfer white background

Above: I’ve exposed for skin tone here and let everything in the background blow out

expose shot and post production comparison

Above: Strong backlighting can create beautiful skin tones but beware of lens flare.
I’ve exposed for skin tone here and let everything in the background blow out.

Asian boy in martial arts outfit holding a camera

Above: Shot under fluoro light

Boxer in Cuba shot through a doorway sitting on a bed

Above: Shot in Cuba

Actor Lachy Hulme photographed in a dark warehouse with fluro lighting and one tiny window light

Above: Actor Lachy Hulme photographed in a dark warehouse with fluro lighting and one tiny window light.

bike bell shot with street lights

Above: Street lights can create beautiful lighting.

heavily backlit shot of two men in a convenience store on in a super hero outfit

Above: Heavily backlit shot almost looks like it was lit

Woman in car shot under street lights

Above: Using streetlights

Actor Firass Dirani

Above: Actor Firass Dirani

Street scene with dappled light

Above: Dappled light can be beautiful

waiting for people to walk into a pocket of light

Above: Looking for pockets of light and waiting for someone to move into them

coat hanging on a wall side lit

Above: Using light from the side

Lots of colourful laterns

Above: Lanterns

Pockets of light in Cuba man sitting at a bar

Above: Pockets of light in Cuba

Rehearsal of MTCs The Crucible shot under fluro

Above: This rehearsal image for the MTC’s The Crucible was photographed in a flouro and daylight lit studio with skylights.

Actor Jared Deparis in a car light with skylights

Above: Skylights were the main source of lighting in this image of actor Jared Deparis.

older couple sitting at a table surrounded by empty tables in Sicily

Above: Flouro lighting works for this image photographed in Sicily

Model sitting on a rooftop backlit

Above: Backlighting separates the model from the background. Adding flash would have killed the vibe in this image.

#ginachallenge #slimpickings


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Gina Milicia is one of the most widely known and respected photographers in Australia. She is the master of capturing that ‘magical moment’... READ MORE

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