Lighting tip – 4 ways to bounce a flash

As you probably can tell from the lighting articles on this site, I am not a great fan of on camera flash. The thing is that you don’t always have a choice. Sometimes you need to be both portable and have that extra few stops that a flash can produce. In that situation it is best to have a flash that can be attached to your hot-shoe mount. If you get really stuck, you can also use the pop-flash (AKA build in flash), but by doing this you are stepping to the realm of red-eyes, flat pictures and burnt people.

The best way to use an external flash is by triggering it by remote. (see the strobist for some great techniques on off camera flash use), but even if you get as creative as the strobster, sometimes you just have to have the flash on camera. For example: You are shooting a wedding and only have one or two flash units. Or is you are on the move along with your subject, and cant take the time to set up. So here are four simple ways to bounce your flash:

The way allot of photographers go is not to bounce at all. They place a stofen (A.K.A omni-bounce) on the flash, set the head to 45 degrees and shoot like there is no tomorrow. Now, the way the stofen works is it spreads dome of the light forward and bounce some of the light of the ceiling. so it only works if you have a nice, relatively low, white ceiling. This is considered a good solution by many photographer.

Why bounce?

  • when you bounce your flash, the light is coming to your subject in a diffused way. you will have less hot-spots (hot-spot is that shiny light at the tip of the subject’s nose that just cries for attention).
  • Red eye will not be an issue since the light is coming far off the subject-to-lens axis.
  • you will avoid those harsh shadows.
  • Today’s modern DSLRs and flash units can calculate the light power you will need for the bounce, so you don’t have to make recurring measures to correct for the bounce.

Now I’m going to recycle some pics from the lightsphere article to demonstrate what happens when you use direct flash. when you use a bounce that “effect” is gone.

 

direct flash

 

 

Why not bounce?

There are three main reasons why you would avoid bouncing your flash:

  • Nothing to bounce from – if you are in an outdoor location, and there are no white walls, ceiling, canopy of people dressed in white
  • Loss of light – you when you bounce your flash the light that your flash provides, need to travel further. remember that geometry class where the teacher says that the sum each two sides of the triangle is bigger then the third side? So light has to travel further. Also the bounce itself is taking some light. Even a completely white wall eats up a bit of light.
  • smoke! smoke is the enemy of flash. if you are in a smoky area (or under the control of an 80′s smoke machines obsessed DJ), and you try to bounce you might end up with a big picture of white. That happens because the smoke reflects the light. If the light has to go through allot of smoke you will get a white wall.

OK, after we covered the PROs and CONs, here are some flash bouncing techniques you can use. You can use those even if you have no accessories. I am assuming, however, that you can tilt and swivel your flash – most flash units like Nikon’s SB-800, SB-28, or Canon’s 550EX or Vivitar’s 285 can both tilt and swivel.

Bounce 1 – off the ceiling

This is the most trivial bounce of them all. To do the ceiling-bounce, just tilt your flash to the ceiling (or at a ~75 degrees angle) and take the picture. The ceiling will act as a huge reflector, bouncing the light softly on your subject. If you are using TTL, eTTL, iTTL or heckTTL, the flash will take care of the output power to compensate for the loss of light. The con of this method is that you might get some shadows below the eyes, since all the light is coming from a high place, this is why you may want to consider the “reverse ceiling bounce”.

Bounce 2 – The reverse ceiling bounce

In this method you tilt your flash 45 degrees backwards, so you are actually flashing the wall and ceiling behind you. The ceiling and wall will give you great diffusion, with a “softbox” even bigger then the ceiling from “bounce 1″, and the light coming back from the wall will take care of eye shadows. The big tow minuses for this method is that you need a wall behind you and that you loose a ton of light, that just goes floating around the room. A personal TIP – take a quick peek behind you before shooting – just to make sure that aunt Jessi is not getting a load of flash in her new contacts.

Bounce 3 – The wall bounce (also known as the side bounce)

In this method, you swivel your flash 90 degrees sideways and bounce of the nearest wall. Again you get a wall-sized softbox. The nice thing about this method is that the light is directional – you will get great depth and character. Can’t find a wall? look to the other side, still can’t find a wall? try the person bounce.

See the bellow picture for a wall bounce (see other picture of my daughter in the children photography article)

side/wall  bounce

Bounce 4 – bounce off a person

I got this one from Eric Vichich, and have been using it with great joy. This is good when you are out doors and you find someone who is waring white T-shirt. swivel the flash head to point to the person and shoot. It is best to use when there is still some day light, other wise the Ad-hock reflector person might get a full load of flash in his eye, and change from a friendly human reflector to a not so friendly red-eyed bull.

Well there you have it. happy bouncing. you can look at the lightsphere article for some bouncing diagrams.

Got some other neat flash techniques? share them on the comments.

  • http://www.facebook.com/debbie.l.west Debbie L West

    How much would I need to adjust my white balance? I have never understood the purpose for that function.

  • http://www.facebook.com/debbie.l.west Debbie L West

    I am glad you sais thaat about using more of the camera’s battery life. Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/debbie.l.west Debbie L West

    i was just thinking of how a cell phone’s light could be used. Great tip!