Art Model, Covenant ©2014 Terrell Neasley Lit by small outdoor lamp and laptop computer. Handheld high ISO

“Wherever there is light, one can photograph.”
~ Alfred Stieglitz

Ambient light or constant light is light that’s not turning off. It just stays on. It doesn’t have to be daylight from the sun. It can be the light on in your house or the light that comes on to illuminate your licence plate when it gets dark. By definition, ambient light is simply the light in your immediate surroundings whether it be artificial or natural. If you are in a dark room lit by a candle, that flicker on the wicker is your ambient light. And that’s the cool stuff that I’ll be discussing in this post. The natural light photogs can get a little something out of this. Anyone can take a photo in the daylight when all the settings are done in Full Auto or “P”-mode. Just let the camera do all the work and you’re good to go. So in bringing back that passion, try this: work with ambient light in the darker settings and use any available light that you can come up with. I’ve used light from a cell phone held close to a model’s face. I’ve used the moon on a 8 second exposure. Or better yet, work with a Neutral Density filter (which I’ll be talking about in another upcoming blog post in more detail).

Art Model, Covenant ©2014 Terrell Neasley
Lit by small outdoor lamp and laptop computer. Handheld high ISO

But here are a few things you’re gonna need in order to get busy with this concept. In the last post, I set you up with flash and triggers for under $200. In this case, I’m gonna stay in that same neighborhood. I’ll begin with a good tripod. I’ve worked with several new and aspiring photogs who make a dubious mistake in my opinion. And when I say, “in my opinion”, it’s just that. I’m not quoting law and regulations. Its my perspective that when I see someone spend a grand or more on a good camera and then come into the camera shop looking for a $25 tripod, I’m just gonna say no. And usually the cheapest I get them out of the door with is a $170 Promaster system that will take care of their support and stabilization needs. You simply don’t trust a thousand dollars on twenty dollar legs. Just don’t do it.

Art Model, Covenant ©2014 Terrell Neasley
Lit by moonlight about 8 seconds (which blurred clouds) on Tripod

Now you can definitely go way more than what Promaster has to offer. I use a carbon fiber Promaster tripod system for my quick travel work here around the country. Its strong, but smaller and more compact to travel with. But for my main work, I use a bigger, but medium sized Manfrotto 190CXPRO4 Tripod with Ball Head Q2 carbon fiber unit that is the most beautiful system out there. Aesthetics usually don’t count, but I fell in love with this thing and its gorgeous as well as strong. However, before I venture off to Central America again, I’m picking up another Promaster that’s tough, but even smaller than the carbon fiber one I have now. Good sturdy legs are key. Next is having a ball head that can support the weight of your camera when its tilted vertical. I like mine to be extra strong in this regard. When a camera is tilted vertically, its actually off of the tripod’s center of gravity. I never use the extended neck on these tripods for that very reason, but sometimes the vertical perspective is necessary.

“What makes photography a strange invention is that its primary raw materials are light and time.”
~ John Berger

You can definitely pick up a used tripod system somewhere. There are super easy to test out and confirm it’s serviceability prior to you trusting it with your camera out in the field. If you can get a good one for cheap, go for it. I like mine new and simply won’t go for a used support system. That’s just me. Every manufacturer will make tripods of various qualities, sizes, max weights, and different price points. Carbon fiber will usually run you double what an aluminum will cost. I like carbon fiber a lot. Find what suits you best in the budget you choose.

Art Model, Covenant ©2014 Terrell Neasley
Lit by flashlight 2 seconds. Tripod,
but high ISO exposing for stars

The next most important item is going to be a cable release or remote shutter release system that plugs into your camera and allows you to actuate the shutter release without having to touch the camera itself and thus causing camera shake. For my Nikon D800E I have the MC-36A Multifuction Remote Cord, which is basically an intervalometer and a shutter release cable in one. But for my Fujifilm XE-2, I use an old style plunger-type threaded cable release. Promaster makes several for just about every camera system and when I do my one-on-one trainings, I’ll generally have my students pick up one for $20 to $30, depending on what cameras system they have.

Next all you need is a still subject and the proficiency to shoot them giving the lighting challenges and the uniqueness or limitations of your camera. If you have a Sony A7s (stay tuned), then you don’t really have any camera limitations. If you’re working with a camera with ISO deficiencies, then yes, you’ll have to work within that. But generally speaking, you’ll be on a tripod so ISO 100 will usually be the best bet. I say generally, because if you’re doing astro work, then max ISO is where you’ll be. In either case doing a portrait in single-sourced low light can be both fun and challenging, but its sure to pay off with some good work.

Art Model, Covenant ©2014 Terrell Neasley Lit by small outdoor lamp and laptop computer. Handheld high ISO

You can easily get started by using the obvious sources of light around you. The lamp on your light stand; the light coming off the TV or computer monitor, an overhead patio light. Get creative with it a bit. Try using the refrigerator light, a match, a headlamp, a night light. You can even play with different LED lights you might find in the toy section or automotive departments. Experiment! That’s the main aim here. Experimentation and just play. Use a lowest ISO setting on your camera unless you are NOT using a tripod. In which case you want to use the lowest ISO you can get away with. Target an ISO that will allow for a shutter speed of at least 1/60th of a second, but cheat a little if you can. Go to 1/30th or even 1/15th and boost the Exposure Value Compensation up by a stop or two. Have your model be as still as possible. If you are not using a model and are doing night time/low light landscape, well, look to see if the wind is blowing the trees or tall grass and let that determine what your shutter should be. Just go out there and shoot and see what happens.