Natural Light VS Available Light

 In For Photographers

We believe there is a misconception while discussing natural light and available light, as while they have certain similarities, they are not the same thing! While I hear from a lot of photographer “I am a natural light shooter”, I don’t believe many of them are truly “natural light” photographers, but available light photographers.
In this article I will dig deeper in the differences between natural light and available light and tell you more about our approach and why we consider ourselves more available light photographers more than natural light photographers.
Do you want to know more?

Natural Light and Available Light: the difference

To put it bluntly, natural light is sunlight, fair and simple. Available light is every kind of light source you can have; the sun, the lamp in the corner of the room and the candles lit on the window ledge in front of my desk tonight are all available light sources.
Using only the first means that you are only going to shoot during the day, without any other source of light switched on. Shooting with the second means that you can use every single source of light you can put your hands on. In the past we shoot an editorial lit only with candles; the result was awesome, but I can assure you that 20 small candles will generate a lot of heat. Despite the many differences, there are some similarities in how you can use the two lights: you have to adapt, you have to live and breathe in an environment where your ability to control the light will be somehow limited.
We know an amazing photographer, Roberto Aguilar, and we look at his studio works and we are amazed; but if we had to shoot as he does, perfectly balancing lights, we would lose interest after few shoots. This is because we love to look at a scene and start planning the shoot with what we have, not planning what to have to recreate a scene.

Is natural light better?

I put this question in the same bucket of “Who do you love more? Mommy or Daddy?” or in the same league of the technical specs below a photograph “shoot at f/8, 1/125 sec, ISO 200” (without knowing the amount of light, or the flash power or the distance between the light source and your subject).
I am in love with natural light, it has a quality that is outstanding, and it is always there, always available during the day; however, if you are a night owl, of if you live in the United Kingdom, there is the chance your natural light won’t be enough, so in that case the natural light is not better.

Is flash an available light source?

In theory, if a flash is available, it could be considered such; however, I tend to think differently. While natural light is completely immovable and a lamp is somewhat movable, the flash is a light you create and shape. I would consider the modelling light an available source, but a flash itself? No, I would not.
To me the flash removes that unique, real feeling natural light or any available one offers. You can sculpt everything you want with one or more flash, but the idea of “making” the scene makes me think that it is not anything “available”.
Do you think differently?

Available light can be more difficult to master than natural light

I believe that any kind of light has its challenges; natural light has a tone, a strength (or a weaknesses) that need to be learned; using available light will challenge you on colour balancing and understanding how to limit a source or another; using flash is an art on its own.
I think that the challenges you face are personal. I love understanding how I can lit a scene by using every single light I see available, and I find refreshing having to position my subjects so that the natural light is the constant. Those things for me are entertaining. Give me a flash and ask me to set up a scene, and I will get bored after few minutes.

Try not to think that to be a good photographer you need to know how to use flash. Don’t think that you need to understand how to balance the light colour of two different lights. Be yourself, do what feels right and don’t fight it. That’s the best way of understanding light and using it well; natural light, available one or flash. Just relax and enjoy!

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