The Leica Look

Available Light

How do you take pictures with the (only) available light?

Practically speaking, there are basically two approaches to available light situations: the photographers either deliberately use the lighting mood that is there, adapting or potentiating it by means of photographic parameters such as exposure time, light sensitivity and colour temperature, and actively designing the picture with impressive colours and strong contrasts, or they decide out of necessity to only work with the available light, and to try and draw the best out of the camera with the appropriate settings. In both cases, the use of a flash is totally taboo.

The professional photographer Richard Seymour sheds light on different shooting challenges.

  • Landscape-photography

    Landscapes that at first may appear to make rather unspectacular-seeming pictures, can become convincing when captured with a special atmosphere. Technically speaking, taming light and fixing it to your needs is something that film makers have perfected.

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    However, this no longer has much to do with available light photography. Even so, it is possible to produce natural light photos that contain a narrative power within them. The twilight and the car headlights offered the perfect foundation for the photographer to design this cinematic image. A carefully considered position for the camera and the picture’s balanced composition, transform the picture into a captivating scenario.

    In this case, the photographer used a moderate light sensitivity of ISO 800 and an exposure time of 1/15th of a second, with an aperture of f/5.6, which created sufficient depth of field. The i-point is delivered by the rising mist, that lies on the fields like a veil and lends the picture a mysterious touch.

  • Landscape-photography

    Spectacular available light pictures can be achieved for landscape and nature photography. With the right combination of exposure time and aperture, we can capture the most unique situations offered to us by nature and natural light.

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    With analogue photography, photographers were always dependent on the particular colour hues of the film material. The possibilities of digital photography are not affected by these kind of limitations, as the photographer can adjust colour temperature and individual colours later on, however he or she likes.

    In contrast to the previous pictures, the photographer opted in this case to reduce the available light, rather than capture more of it. In this manner, it was also possible to influence and design the lighting situation. To create a dramatic mood, the picture remained slightly underexposed, so that the colours and the contrasts are stronger. The 1/500th second of exposure time was short enough to capture the lighthouse and the people as black silhouettes, and to photograph the crashing waves without any motion blur.

  • Street-photography

    A haunting portrait photographed in a situation where normally the movement and light conditions would have been insufficient for a good photo. In this case also, the eye of the driver appears so strong and captivating, that the photo conveys an impression that goes way beyond the framework of the excerpt. The use of the light reflected in the rear-view mirror at precisely the height of the eyes, further strengthens the impression.

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    For this picture, the photographer had to go to the limits of the technical possibilities. With an open aperture (f/1.7) and a light sensitivity of ISO 3200, he achieved a shutter speed of 1/160th of a second, which, thanks to the cars slow or paused speed, was sufficient for a shake-free picture.

  • Street-photography

    A very successful example of the interplay between contrasts, sharpness and unsharpness. A composition that shows the stage-like use of the sparse, available lighting on a face. No recognisable background, no distracting shapes or colours: one of those pictures that is able to magically transform a mundane moment into a timeless image.

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    The content level goes hand in hand with the technical approach: reduction is the name of the game. The photographer used a Leica M Edition 60, in other words, a digital rangefinder camera without display. Considering the weak light conditions, the decision was made to use a high light sensitivity (ISO 3200) and a short shutter speed of 1/350th of a second, that eliminated any possible motion blur. With a nearly completely open aperture of f/2.8, he also created a soft, pleasant bokeh in the background.

  • Concert-photography

    A similar situation, a different approach. While in the picture above the intimacy of the image and reduction of the content are at the forefront, this picture captures all the dynamics of a stage performance.

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    Light sources from all sides focus on the singer – colourful spotlights from left and right, and a warm light from the front. Here the photographer also did a spectacular job of capturing the atmosphere and energy of the concert, underlined at the precise moment by the musician’s leap.

    The photographer was placed below the stage for this picture. With a wide open aperture (f/2) and a light sensitivity of ISO 640, a short exposure time of 1/320th of a second was enough to capture this dynamic jump with a negligible amount of motion blur. The stage lighting was sufficient to reveal the right amount of background. Using a flash would have destroyed the whole atmosphere and pushed unimportant details to the forefront.

  • Concert-photography

    Available light photography is always a question of playing with light and shadow, with brightness and darkness. This photo is an excellent example of how, through the reduction of picture content, you are able to create an intimate and intense mood. In this case, the photographer specifically used the available light sources on the stage, to take advantage of the contrasts and to isolate the musician from his surroundings. As a result, the universal aspect of this motif – the musician and his instrument – is brought to the forefront.

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    In this case, the photographer is standing to the right behind the musician. For the picture, he used the only light source – a spotlight that was falling on the musician at that point. A wide open aperture (f/1.7) allowed the photographer to use a relatively short exposure time (1/90s), which prevented a larger degree of motion blur. With these parameters, only the brightest elements of the picture are visible; in other words, only the instrument and the musician. The room, the audience and the stage – everything else disappears in the darkness. Concert and theatre photography, among others, define a very specific genre of available light photography, because they manage to work without extra aids, but adapt the stage lighting set up for the audience’s benefit.

Insider tips
at first hand in Leica Stores

Experience the magic of available light in our Leica Stores around the world. Our Leica Stores are meeting places that offer dialogue and opportunities to experience the world of photography.

Our staff and photography experts look forward to sharing their knowledge and know-how with you in person, offering you constructive and encouraging support across a range of technical and photographic matters.

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Who makes the best out of
available light situations?

Get plenty of inspiration from pictures you can find at the LFI.Gallery; and capture your own special moment. We also invite you to take part in our challenge! Please submit your best pictures with the theme ‘Live on Stage’. You can find further information at


You can learn more about the subject of motion blur
at our photo workshops

With a broad selection of photo workshops, the Leica Academy offers you practical and intensive experience in every area of photographic creativity.

How to produce imaginative pictures using motion blur is just one of the aspects covered by the Leica Academy. Enrich your creative photography and let yourself be guided towards the best possible image results.

Leica products
for the best available light photography:

M10-P Key Visual Mathieu Bitton 1512x1008

Cameras with high ISO performance, high-speed lenses and image stabilisers – these are the right kind of tools for original and shake-free images.

With its high-speed lens and the image stabiliser, the Leica Q is excellent for spontaneous, available light pictures.

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The perfect tool for taking authentic available light pictures: the Leica M10 with its impressive high ISO performance and high-speed Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH.

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