Available Light Tips for Travel Photography

It doesn’t matter what you call it—available light, unavailable light, available darkness, or low light photography—often the most rewarding photographs are produced when working under challenging lighting conditions. Why?

First, there’s the thrill of overcoming the ever-present technical obstacles that prevent you from producing a well-exposed image under challenging lighting conditions. Second, photographs made under lighting conditions different from the classic instruction sheet admonition of “f/16 and the sun over your right shoulder” have a more eye-catching look. Third, since most travel photographs are made during the middle of the day, taking the time to search out other times will let you produce photographs that are different from the rest of the pack’s.

ABQ Mall

1/50 sec at f/3.2 and ISO 2500

When I’m home I take a three-mile walk around a nearby lake and always take a camera because I never know what I’ll encounter on my walk. When I’m traveling, I take a similar walk at night because scenes, like this one at a mall near my hotel in Albuquerque, which looks completely different at night than it does during the day. I captured this image handheld, assisted by the Olympus E-5’s in-body image stabilization. To make it look even more different, I used Oly’s Pop Art mode to punch up the color adding a touch of unreality

To make successful low light images you’ll want to start with a combination of fast lenses and ISO settings often combined with a slow shutter speed. There’s also no problem with color shifts caused by reciprocity failure as there is with film. While you can always shoot at ISO 200 speed for available light photography, especially when using a tripod, you’ll probably want to bump up your camera’s ISO settings when the light is low. How much will be determined by how much digital noise—that’s exacerbated by slow shutter speeds and high ISO settings— you can tolerate.

Key West, Florida

1/60 sec at f/2.8 and ISO 160

While its long since a cliché that you should always have a camera with you, sometimes you just don’t feel like lugging a digital SLR and a tripod, no matter how lightweight they may be, around all day. That’s why I only took my Micro Four-thirds cameras with me on my recent trip to Key West, Florida. The above shot was made while enjoying a sunset cruise around the keys using a Panasonic Lumix G2 with Sigma 19mm f/2.8 DN lens.

Author: Joe Farace

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