What is ambient light?

Ambient light is the light already present in the place where you are shooting. Before you manipulate the lighting for the shoot, be aware of the natural light. It can be from the sun, moon, or your ordinary lightbulb. It's also referred to as natural or practical light in some instances.

Ambient lighting can be a pain to work with on some occasions. It can be the wrong color temperature, intensity, or direction. You can block it, or you can try to use it in creative ways. It can turn a mundane shot into something more unique and exciting.

How to work with it?

Multiple scenarios require many adjustments. It depends on the time of day, outside or inside shoot, and many other variables. When shooting inside, you have more control over the lighting. And manipulating it to your preferences is much easier. Just remember to be mindful of lights from outside, like windows and skylights.

The positioning of the subject is crucial if you want to use the ambient light instead of blocking it out.

To minimize the ambient light, you can try a few things:

  • Set your ISO as low as possible
  • Maximize shutter speed with regards to sync speed limits
  • Place your aperture at the point where there is no visible ambient lighting.
  • Test and adjust

Outside shooting is more troublesome since you can't shut off the sun! No matter how much sunscreen you smear on your lens...

You have to deal with things like shadows, light direction, and weather conditions. If you need to cut the light, you can use silk as a light diffusion to create a more balanced light. Silk helps you get rid of hard shadows created by hard lighting. You position the silk between the sun and the subject to soften the harsh sunlight.

And if you need to isolate the subject from the background, use bounce boards to redirect the sunlight. By doing this, you focus the light better on the subject. Be aware of the shadows, where they are, and where you want them to be.
Working with ambient lighting may seem complicated and technical at times. Get started, find what works for you, and run with it! If you want to learn more about using lights in your projects, Learnaboutfilm.com provides a nice overview.