How To Work With Available Light-II

by William Lulow

One technique that I use frequently when I’m shooting outdoors with available light is to put the subject(s) with backs to the sun so that the sun acts as a highlight (secondary light source).  This does three things:

  • It puts the front of the subject in shadow
  • It eliminates all squinting.
  • It gives the subject separation from the background.

Since the subject is now in shadow, it needs to be filled-in with a MAIN LIGHT source, usually a portable flash on a light stand away from the camera position. You need to be careful not to make the flash too strong, or it will look unnatural. I usually adjust my flash to around ¼ or ½ power.  Here are a few examples:




You can’t make this kind of setup when the weather is overcast. So, since the light is already soft, it doesn’t need additional light. However, you can add some extra light to your “available light” set up anyway by putting your portable flashes in back of your subjects to try to re-create light from the sun. You have to make sure they register no more than one stop brighter than the ambient light in order to keep them as highlights with a normal look to them.

So, even available light has to be helped sometimes in order to register all the details in a scene that are needed. If you are shooting without adding any light, you can always use objects as kind of reflectors. You can stand someone next to a light building, say. Or make a photograph in front of a light sidewalk or other surface. These are all techniques you can use to help your available light situations render the tones you want.