Available Light gets Short Shrift these days but it can really rock.
You probably are tired of hearing the shopworn old saying, "Give someone a hammer and suddenly everything looks like a nail...." I'm tired of hearing that too. I'm also tired of hearing the phrase, "Horses for courses". I've never owned a horse and few of the people I deal with every day have owned horses either. I think it must mean that you would use a quarter horse for rodeo work and a thoroughbred for some kinds of races; perhaps a Clydesdale to pull your beer wagon around.....
But, back to the hammer one. In the last few years we've been teaching anyone with a few extra bucks how to use flash. In fact, to read the Strobist.com discussion group or even one of my first two books you could be excused for thinking that a battery powered flash, connected via wires or radio triggers, is as important as the lens in taking acceptable photographs.
Surprise! Available light still works. Even with digital! While I think it's great to be able to pull a tool out of the box (a flash?) and know how to use it when the light gets dicey and you need some help, it's not the Holy Grail of photography. Problem is that many people tend to learn a technique and apply it in every instance.
This is a reminder to look for beautiful light and use it as your FIRST line of creative tactics. The universe has billions more years of experience (unless you are a literal Bible believer) in creating and sharing really nice and interesting light. Part of being a photographer is learning to see the promise of fine lighting and leverage it into your images.
The shot above was very simple. I was sitting having mocha almond cake at Les Amis cafe on the corner of 24th street and the street one block west of Guadelupe, in Austin, Texas. I was sitting outside covered by a patio roof. I was a few feet in from the sun. I had my ancient Canon TX 35mm camera, loaded with the (nearly) required Tri-X black and white film. That day I was playing with a Vivitar 135mm f2.8 lens. I turned around to follow the wandering eye of my guest and spotted this charming young woman. I smiled, brought up the camera, matched the needle for exposure and clicked off a frame. She smiled and we both went back to the important business of enjoying our afternoon snacks. This image, though well over thirty years old, constantly reminds me to look at available light first. And to use it if it works.
Today is actually International Available Light Portrait Day. Celebrate by taking some low stress, high return portraits----just for fun. Happy IALPD!