Lighting is everything in photography. The effects of poor lighting can leave a photograph underexposed, with the subject indistinct from the background. Using flash can compensate for many poor lighting conditions. Sometimes flash is not enough, at which point it's important to know how to set up ambient lighting.
Effects of poor lighting
The art of photography is to capture light. Understanding what constitutes a poor lighting condition, and the effects they have, is paramount to taking a high quality picture.
When a bright light is visible in the frame behind the focus it will cause the photograph to come out dark and underexposed. The light will stand out bright and clear while the everything else in the frame is indistinct and swathed in shadows.. This happens because the camera automatically sets the exposure based on the brightness of the light source, resulting in the underexposure of the rest of the picture.
Natural light is not a suitable source of light on its own. The exception is dawn and dusk, when the light is focused and distinct. The uniform lighting gives a flatness to the photograph, the subject blending in with the background.
The entire principle of photography is based off capturing light, usually bounced off objects. When there is inadequate lighting pictures end up underexposed, indistinct and swathed in shadows.
How to fix this
Fixing the issues caused by poor lighting is a simple solution once they have been identified. Using the flash built into the camera enables high-quality pictures in low-quality light. Flash is a versatile tool that gives clarity and definition to the subject.
The issue of bright light sources in the background causing a dark and indistinct subject is solved with flash. Lighting the subject with flash brings the subject onto the same brightness level as the source in the background. Having the subject lit gives it clarity and vividness against the underexposed background.
A subject blending in with the background of a natural light picture will pop out with flash. The change from uniform light to the flash as the main source of light on the subject will make it pop. Even a clear sunny day photo is improved by using the flash will make the subject stand out in the photograph.
The flash will provide a light source to brighten up a dark setting, but it has drawbacks. When it's too dark the flash can potentially wash the details out of a photograph. The main drawback of flash being the main source of light is the harsh shadows it will cast.
How to set up ambient light
When the lighting is inadequate for good photography without flash shadows it is time to set up ambient lighting. The most important thing to keep in mind when setting up ambient lighting is to focus on soft light.
For indoor photography bounce light from focus lamps off of the walls to create a soft light. Avoid focusing any light directly on the subject, that is the job of the flash.
Outdoor lighting also needs to soft and indistinct. Bounce light off of anything available: large rocks, fences, trees, vehicles, whatever is at hand. If nothing is available to bounce light, focus the light on the ground around the subject with focus lamps.
Taking a photograph is capturing reflected light from an area. Getting the right lighting is the difference between a crisp, vivid photograph and a dark, indistinct, underexposed one. Poor lighting can be compensated for by using flash, giving a distinctive pop to the subject. Sometimes flash just makes things worse, at which point knowing how to set up ambient lighting can save the opportunity.