How to Add Ambient Light to Portrait Photography

There’s a lot to love when it comes to ambient light. Though photographers have a plethora of artificial lighting tools at their disposal, very rarely does photo gear live up to natural sunlight. Often times, sunlight diffused by clouds or bounced softly at a certain angle even makes people look a bit better. This isn’t to say that natural light is without its own set of difficulties to overcome. In fact, many novice photographers avoid shooting with natural light because of how problematic it can sometimes be in creating a well exposed image.

Sometimes the best results come with a balance of both ambient and artificial light in a scene. In this short, Francisco Hernandez goes over a few balanced light examples of his own, as well as some tips on achieving similar results in your own photography:

If you’d like to allow more ambient light into a shoot featuring artificial lights, here are a few technical adjustments that can make a significant aesthetic difference.

Opt for a wider aperture

The more narrow the aperture you work with, the more your artificial light will drown out any natural light infiltrating the composition. Darkened backgrounds create a narrow, spotlight-esque look for foreground images, further eliminating naturalism from photographs.

ambient light portrait

Slow things down

Fast shutter speeds naturally allow less light to reach a camera’s sensor. By keeping the shutter open for a longer amount of time, it’s possible to get a brighter photograph with a higher ratio of ambient light.

Switch up the ISO

Sometimes, making adjustments to the shutter speed or aperture of an image simply isn’t an option. In these cases, a higher ISO can be used to bring in more natural light. However, photographers should be wary of digital noise becoming a distraction should they opt to make ISO adjustments.

ambience at different ISO settings

Many photographers are surprised by how straightforward incorporating ambient light into an image can be. The next time the images you make in the field aren’t turning out quite right, don’t pain yourself by fiddling with clumsy strobe or continuous light settings and angles. Instead, take a moment to make some changes within the camera itself –to your surprise, you may find that a simple change makes an incredible difference in color and tonality.

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One response to “How to Add Ambient Light to Portrait Photography”

  1. Pablo says:

    You should also comment that you are using HSS Flash. 1/1000 or 1/2000 is far from the flash sync speed. Most people don’t have HSS Flashes (at least in my country and my fellows photographers). It would be a more useful video if all the photos where over the sync speed. But, thank you for the video.

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