Light is what makes photography possible. Digital camera sensors, like film before them, create an image by recording the differing amounts of light reflected off the subject. Nature has been kind enough to provide a great source of light — the sun — but sometimes it just isn’t enough or creates awkward shadows. It is important in those situations to know how and when to use artificial light for your photos.
When There Isn’t Enough Light
The most obvious reason to use artificial light is because there isn’t enough available light to get the photo you want. Low light can result in a number of consequences. For example, if the light level is too low, your camera’s shutter speed may become so slow that moving subjects appear blurry; blur from camera shake can also be a problem. Your camera may try to compensate for the lack of light by increasing the ISO, or sensitivity, but this can result in noisy or grainy images. Finally, it may just be so dark that the camera is unable to capture an image at all.
Avoid Harsh Shadows
Sometimes it’s a good idea to use artificial light even when there’s more than enough available light to take the photograph. Often, when photographing people outdoors, direct sun can leave harsh, unflattering shadows on one side of the face or under the eyes and nose. They won’t produce the sort of results you’d want to use for family portraits or Photo Cards that you plan to send to family and friends. Adding a little light by using a flash, reflector or any other light source can soften those shadows for more pleasant portraits.
Take Control of Your Light
With some experience, you can use artificial light to take total control of your exposures. For instance, you can avoid pale, blown-out skies by setting your camera to expose for the sky and the flash to expose your subject correctly. You can use artificial light to create dramatic shadows on and around your subject. You can even use a flashlight or other handheld light source to “paint” with light at night or in a darkened room. Once you have the basics down, only your creativity will limit what you can do with artificial light in your photography.
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Image source: Andy Warycka