Travel Photography Tips: Available Light

Available light

It defines how most of our travel photography is taken.

Light is one of the fundamentals of great travel photography. Shooting with available light is something every aspiring photographer should strive to master, or at least understand.


Morning light at Banff National Park, Alberta.

That doesn't meant that every situation is easy. Actually, shooting with available light can be very tricky. Low light levels, bad quality of light, its color and shape, all of these are challenges that we must face while shooting and traveling.

Shooting with available light allows for a natural connection with your subjects and allows you to capture something that is truly in the moment.

So today let's take a look at some tips and tricks you can easily employ while shooting in available light.

Available light situations:

1. Use a Fast Lens: Available light photography usually involves shooting in low light situations and the best way to cope with this is to shoot with a fast lens. A fast lens means something with a low f-stop like an f1.4 to an f2.8. The bigger the aperture the more light you get. I would suggest steering away from zoom lenses, unless you can afford a lens that has a constant aperture, as they may start at an f2.8 at the wide end but end up around 4.5 or 5.6 at the long end. That just won't cut it in most available light situations. A 2.8 Prime or fixed focal length lens is the perfect partner for available light photography. It gives you a great combination of sharpness and depth of field. Perfect for stunning available light shots.

Recommended Lenses – Canon 70-200 f2.8 or Canon 70-200 f.40

2. Avoid too much Contrast: Balanced light offers the best lighting scenario. That doesn't mean avoid the darkness, but try to avoid situations where the brights are too bright and the blacks are too black. Your eye may be able to adjust to any situation but the camera can only handle so much unless you are shooting HDR. So try to train your eye to search for balanced light scenes where color and darkness combine for a perfect balance. For example, if you are shooting inside a room and the light coming through the window is too bright, frame out the window so that the camera can balance the light and shadows in more easily. Try not to have the two extremes in one picture. In travel photography we find ourselves dealing with this on a regular basis especially indoors.

3. Patience: Patience in any type of photography is important. But maybe even more so in available light photography. Waiting for your subject to look up into the light can mean the difference between a great shot and an average one. When a subject looks up and catches the light, it creates a sparkle in the eye it brings life to the photo. When I worked in the film business, there was always an eye light for actors. When you watch a movie, you'll always see the actors eyes dancing in the light. The reason for this is that it draws your focus to their eyes and brings life to the photograph.

The same way the right colour combination can bring a photograph to life, proper lighting can as well. So wait for that magic hour time of day, or watch the clouds and wait for the sun to come back out. If the scene isn't right at noon, come back at 5:00. Patience is important.

4. Maximize your ISO: Having the ability to get great images at 3200 ISO is a real bonus. A lot has changed from the film era where shooting with ASA 1600 would maybe give you a grainy unusable image.  Today, most consumer cameras will give you great images at 3200 ISO. Just remember a little bit of noise doesn't make it a bad image, it can actually add an artistic flair so don't be afraid of it.

5. Continuous Shooting: Most newer DSLR's have this. It is usually described in Frames Per Second or fps. This denotes how many photos, or frames, it will take in a second. By using the “motor drive” you can capture a lot of photo's fast and usually one of these will be more in focus than the others. The action of pushing the shutter can cause blur, so the first shot may be out of focus but the next ones have a better chance of being in focus. This is especially important with a moving subject.

6. Look for the light: This is one of the best tips I can give you. I always am on the look out for the best lighting in any scene. If you find that and wait for the photo to happen there you have already created the environment for a great available light shot.

So there you have it. Six travel photography tips to help you shoot better available light photos. If you put these to use you will find your travel photography in available light situations will improve drastically.

For more tips see Camera Gear to Travel to Antarctica

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