Available Light: What Is It In Photography And Cinematography?

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Available Light, also referred to as Ambient Light, is an often-unsophisticated light source that is already present in a scene. It occurs naturally from the sun or from the environment and can be used to photograph or shoot video without artificial lighting or equipment. Images created with natural available light can often produce a look that stands apart from photos taken with artificial lighting setups.

This type of light source is preferred by many professionals who wish to achieve a natural look in their work and avoid having to carry extra equipment. While available light can often be more unpredictable than studio lighting, this lack of predictability also adds a certain spontaneity and creative freedom to the mix when shooting with it. Additionally, photographers and cinematographers who develop an understanding of how best to utilize available light will see great results often despite challenging environments.

  • Benefits of Available Light
    • Produces a natural look
    • Does not require extra equipment
    • Adds spontaneity and creative freedom
  • Tips for Utilizing Available Light
    1. Identify the existing light sources.
    2. Understand how the existing light affects the scene.
    3. Experiment with positioning and composition.
    4. Adjust your camera settings as needed.
What is available light

What is Available Light?

Available light refers to the natural light that is available for use when taking photographs and filming movies. This type of lighting is often preferred by photographers and cinematographers as it is more natural and often more dynamic. Available light can also be used to create interesting effects depending on the specific circumstances. In this article, we will discuss the different types of available light and their uses in both photography and cinematography.

  • Photography
  • Cinematography

The different types of available light can be broken down into three categories:

  1. Natural light – This is the most commonly used type of available light and is often the most effective for creating dramatic effects. Natural light can be used to create a range of different moods, from soft and romantic to hard and dramatic.
  2. Artificial light – Artificial light can be used to supplement natural light or to create a completely different atmosphere. This type of lighting is often used when photographing in low-light conditions or when a specific color or mood is desired.
  3. Mixed light – Mixed light is a combination of natural and artificial light and can be used to create a unique atmosphere. This type of lighting is often used in cinematic productions as it can create a unique blend of different colors and tones.

Natural Light

When looking at available light, there are two main types: natural and artificial. Natural light is any light that emits from the sun, moon, or stars. Depending on the time of day, and weather conditions these lights have various intensities, colors, and directions. It’s a bit of an art form to learn how to adjust to the various types of natural light in order to get the most out of it in your photographs or film shoot.


In photography and cinematography available light refers to all visible non-artificial illumination sources that are available in a scene, such as sunlight coming through windows or down from above, reflections off walls and other objects in the frame, street lamps at night and so on. Natural lighting is one of the first elements photographers consider when researching potential shooting locations as well as deciding how best to capture their scene.

There are certain ways to maximize natural light’s effectiveness including:

  • Using reflective materials like mirrors or silver umbrellas which can increase its brightness by bounce it around onto your subject;
  • Making use of directional sunlight by strategically positioning your subjects;
  • Using external filters such as ND (neutral density) filters that help you control how much direct sunlight enters your lens at any one time.

For instance, if you need a long exposure during bright midday hours an ND filter will enable you take those shots without having them overexposed!

Artificial Light

Artificial light is any light not naturally available. It can come in many forms and be used to achieve different purposes in photography and cinematography. Artificial light sources include studio lighting, flash, LED lights, tungsten lighting, fluorescent lighting, HMI lamps and practicals such as lamps or floor tiles.

The most commonly used artificial lights used in conventional photography and cinematography are tungsten bulbs, fluorescent tubes, HMIs (Hydrargyrum Medium-Arc Iodide), LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes), flash units and studio lighting setups. These lights can be grouped into two categories—continuous light sources that emit steady illumination over an area for a certain period of time and strobing or intermittent lights which shed brief bursts of illumination for a specific purpose.

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When using artificial light sources for photography or cinematography it’s important to consider the color temperature of the source, directionality of the source’s light output and intensity of the beam. It is also necessary to understand what types of diffusers can apply on various types of artificial lighting sources to avoid hotspots or hard shadows that may appear in photographs or videos if not used correctly.

Benefits of Available Light

Available Light is one of the most important elements of photography and cinematography. It refers to any natural light source in the environment that can be used to light a scene. This type of light offers many benefits, including convenience and realism, making it the preferred option for many photographers and cinematographers. Below, we will dive into these benefits and explore why available light is so important.

  • Benefits of Available Light:
  • Convenience
  • Realism


When compared to artificial light, natural light is the most cost-effective illumination you can use for photography and cinematography. Natural available light does not require any additional investments in equipment or supplies. When shooting outdoors, particularly during the golden hour or twilight, only some minor adjustments may be needed to enhance the quality of light that is already naturally occurring. Therefore, natural available light requires no further expenditure in buying special lights or stands.

Additionally, available light also prevents excessive power consumption when shooting indoors. Lighting a scene requires much electricity and can be very expensive in regards to bills over time. While there may be situations where artificial lighting is necessary, creating good photographs with natural available light can save both money and effort in generating attractive visuals without investing extra costs associated with artificial lighting setup.

  • Advantages of Natural Light
    • Does not require any additional investments in equipment or supplies.
    • Minimal adjustments may be needed to enhance the quality of light.
    • Prevents excessive power consumption when shooting indoors.
    • Saves money and effort in generating attractive visuals.

Creates a Natural Look

One of the biggest benefits of using available light in photography and cinematography is its ability to create a natural look. Unlike studio lights, which can throw off a harsh glare that could be deemed artificial, available light can mimic natural lighting conditions and provide a softer appearance that many viewers find more appealing. Additionally, because it is accurate to indoors and outdoors environments, available lights helps photographers and cinematographers craft visually striking images with more accurate colors that are true to life.

Available light also lends itself well to creative photography techniques such as silhouettes or shadow play. Being able to shoot without any external lighting set-up puts the scene at the disposal of the photographer or cinematographer and gives them the opportunity to experiment with different points of view or compositions to captivate their audience.

Furthermore, using natural or existing lights helps photographers and films conserve resources while still getting beautiful shots. Without having to worry about carrying bulky equipment or requiring artificial lighting rigs, which may require additional personnel, photographers and films can focus on capturing their desired angle without having additional hurdles affecting their shooting time.

  • Benefits of Available Light
    • Creates a natural look
    • Accurate to indoors and outdoors environments
    • Creative photography techniques
  • Advantages of Available Light
    • Soft appearance
    • More accurate colors
    • Experiment with different points of view
    • Conserves resources

Easier to Control

Using available light in photography and cinematography can provide an array of benefits. One of the most important is that it is much easier to control as compared to studio lighting. Natural light can easily be stopped down, diffused, or redirected to avoid spill light and reduce contrast.

Unlike traditional film or digital photography, available light can be used creatively to add atmosphere and mood. Lighting from natural sources is often softer than studio lighting, which produces a more cinematic result. The direction and quality of the light can also be changed by using scrims or silks for directional control, or using reflectors for filling in shadows with softer, indirect lighting.

  • The advantage of working with available light means that photographers and cinematographers are able to work quickly without having to spend time setting up multiple lights over a large area or dealing with weighty power cords.
  • There’s no need for extended setup times on location either; you simply adjust your settings based on what is already there.
  • Available light also offers more flexibility when shooting outside of the studio setting.

Challenges of Using Available Light

Capturing images using only natural light is an essential part of photography and cinematography, with techniques such as available light becoming increasingly popular. However, there are certain challenges that one needs to consider when using available light, such as choosing the right time of day and dealing with weather conditions. In this article we’ll take a look at some of the key challenges of using available light in photography and cinematography.

  1. Choosing the right time of day
  2. Dealing with weather conditions

Difficult to Control

When using available light, it can be very difficult to control and manage the light, compared to using artificial lighting. Not all environments have the same color temperature and intensity, so it can be hard to find a good balance between overexposed and underexposed areas of your shot. Not only that, reflected light from other sources in the environment can cause unwanted shadows that make it hard to create a pleasing image. Additionally, you may find yourself in situations where available light is not sufficient for what you need from your shot. In these cases you won’t be able to adjust the lighting setup as you could with artificial lighting, leaving you with fewer options.

It’s important to keep all these various factors in mind when working with available light: color temperature, intensity levels and reflected light all have an impact on your image quality. Additionally, having a thorough understanding of exposure techniques is essential when working with available light as your main source of illumination – something that can take time and practice to master.

Limited Options

Using available light has plenty of advantages, but it also comes with its own set of unique challenges. With limited lighting options, it takes a creative eye to make the most out of every scene. Some of the biggest challenges you face while working with available light include:

  • Angle/direction: The angle and direction of your light source is the number one concern when using available light. With natural light, you don’t have much control over where it comes from or how it falls on your subject.
  • Intensity: Along with adjusting the angle and direction, you also need to consider how intense or bright your available light will be on your subject. You can’t always adjust this as easily as you can when using artificial lights.
  • Implied Motion: Available light changes quickly, which means that any change in position or distance could affect your shot significantly. Moving too quickly might cause changes in exposure or leave unwanted shadows in an otherwise beautiful composition.
  • Time Limitations: Working with natural light usually means working within the confines of time – offering a limited window for setting up and shooting before the quality of available light starts to diminish significantly creating other challenges such as capturing desired colors and hues or lacking certain details due to low visibility/illumination levels resulting from minimal lighting sources/options/.


One of the main tricky aspects when shooting with available light is that it can be unpredictable due to its dependence on environmental factors. Exposure levels and quality of available light depend on several environmental factors, such as time of day, season, position in the sky, weather conditions, as well as varying shades within a subject. When shooting with natural lighting outdoors, strong midday sunlight which is most common during sunny days can make outdoor shots harsh and hard to control. This type of existing light can create heavy shadows and distorted facial features since it is not possible to evenly diffused throughout a large area easily.

Moreover, available light also causes difficulty in controlling white balance or color temperature. Depending upon the nearby elements and their temperature or color grade such as green foliage extracting magenta tone out of exposure or reflections from water creating blue secondary hues which affect overall white balance and that produce unusual photo results. Most cameras have auto white balance settings but they are often inaccurate especially in challenging lighting conditions like windowless interiors with mixed color temperatures fixtures where most camera sensors tend to shift exposure towards warmer end whereas resulting images look overly yellowish., while they require adjustments manually within camera menus or during post-processing phase.

  • Overcast skies produce general uneven soft lighting by adding neutral but great soft even tones while they also act as ambient reflectors since any bright source will directly bounced back into frames around it if needed.
  • Other useful sources like street lights allow photographers more minimalistic approach at night shots by eliminating need for flash by utilizing two lights sources alternately for best results without disturbing environment around them either physically or visually leading only dreamy results even with long exposures in crowded places.


In conclusion, available light is a photography and cinematography term for natural or artificial illumination for setting scenes and shooting. Professional photographers, videographers, and cinematographers must consider the available light in a scene in order to properly set up their shots. The strength of the light, its direction and color temperature all play into the composition of a photograph or video. Photographers use strobes, reflectors and other tools to modify the available light present in order to achieve the desired effect. When combined with lighting equipment, available light can be utilized to create stunning photographs and professional-level videos.

Hi, I'm Kim, a mom and a stop-motion enthusiast with a background in media creation and web development. I've got a huge passion for drawing and animation, and now I'm diving headfirst into the stop-motion world. With my blog, I'm sharing my learnings with you guys.