Why You Should Give Available Light Portraiture a Try

by | Jul 1, 2020

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

It doesn’t matter what person, place, or thing you’re photographing, the ultimate subject of any photograph is light. Light, whether it occurs naturally or artificially, has four basic characteristics: quality, quantity, direction and color but it’s the quality of the light on a subject ultimately determines the effectiveness of your portrait.

Available light? To some photographers that term means using “every light that’s available” while to others, like myself, it means using only or mostly the light that’s available within a scene.

How I made this shot: One of the most traditional forms of available light that can be used for portraits is window light. The image at right image was captured using only the light from a narrow window in the living room of my former home. The model*, Dusty, was posed midway between the window at camera left and my (out of frame) sofa at right, a distance of less than three feet.

The camera used for the portrait was a Canon EOS 50D and EF 85mm f/1.8 lens with an exposure of 1/60 sec at f/4 and ISO 400. No reflector or any kind of supplementary lighting was used. The Image was retouched in Photoshop and the Sunshine filter that’s part part of Color Efex Pro was applied to warm up the image.

Here are a some of the things that I like about making portraits using available light:

  • It’s free! There’s no lighting equipment to purchase, set up, plug-in, or chew through batteries. You can make photographs outdoors using natural light or indoors using window light and all you need is a camera and a subject. You can supplement the available light with inexpensive reflectors that you can purchase or make one yourself using a piece of foam core board, although that style is a bit harder to fold for travel.
  • It’s easy. You can see the light falling on the model and won’t have to guess about what lighting ratio to use or worry about moving two or three lights around or dealing with accessories such as lightstands, hair lights, or booms. In this kind of available light situation you’ll find that the subject is more relaxed and instead of wasting time fussing with lighting equipment you’ll be less distracted too enabling you to make better portraits.
  • It’s fast. There are no lights to set up, tear down, or pack or drag through airport security or even worse ship as checked baggage. You eliminate the expense of buying expensive shipping cases for lighting gear or the specter of damage or theft (it happens) in transit. You can also work faster with the subjects getting more and better photographs while allowing them to relax at the same time.

*If you have a friend (or maybe yourself) who would like to model or wants to be my new muse, please contact me through the Contact page or send me an e-mail at joefarace at gmail dot com. We can schedule a test shoot or interview whichever is more convenient.


You can learn all of my tips, tools and techniques on shooting available light glamour photography in my book surprisingly titled  “Available Light Glamour Photography”. New copies of the book are available from Amazon for $19.50 with used copies starting at only $9.99 as I write this. The Kindle version is $16.99 for readers preferring a digital format.