March 14, 2010

bounce flash and catch-lights in the eyes

When working indoors with surfaces that I can easily bounce my flash off,
the question that I always ask myself is:

If this had been a studio shoot, where would I place my softbox?

In a studio-type setup, you’d rarely place a softbox directly over someone’s head as a single light-source.  There are two places to commonly place a softbox in the studio .. to left (and slightly above) or to the right (and slightly above) your subject.  Which side of your subject is quite often dictated by how your subject is positioned.  The simplest and most effective position is so that the light falls onto your subject’s face from the side opposite to the camera’s view.  In other words, ‘short lighting’.

With this photo above, the lighting is pretty much just bounce flash, with a touch of available light registering.  The boy is standing in front of someone wearing a very dark dress, hence the ‘black background’.

Now, looking at that photo, the large catchlights in his eyes should grab your attention immediately.  How did I get those catchlights?  The same way you would in a studio .. by the way you place your softbox.  So in a way then, these kind of catchlights in your subject’s eyes are near-predictable if you bounce your flash with that softbox idea in mind.

Here I once again used the black foamie thing to shield direct flash from falling on him.  I want indirect flash, and I want it directional and soft.  Hence I bounce my flash towards the area I want my light to come from.  That is how I ‘place’ my softbox.  The key here is not to think of your flash as being your light source any more – instead, the area that you’re bouncing your flash off, is now your light source.


related articles

The catchlights in the eyes can also be seen in these examples:


video tutorials to help you with flash photography

If you like learning by seeing best, then these video tutorials will help you with understanding flash photography techniques and concepts. While not quite hands-on, this is as close as we can get to personal instruction. Check out these and other video tutorials and online photography workshops.


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{ 13 comments. } Add a Comment

1 Sinuhe March 15, 2010 at 10:08 am

Superb photo Neil – I really enjoy the website!
Groete, Sinuhe


2 Saso March 15, 2010 at 3:55 pm

“The buy is standing in front of someone..”

probbably you mean “boy”

How come that side bounce does not reflect on “the someone” who is standing behind? How far from the boy is he standing?



3 Neil vN March 15, 2010 at 4:27 pm

thanks, I fixed the typo now.

She was turned slightly towards the boy and hence she was ‘shaded’ from the light from the flash.

Neil vN


4 Meryl March 16, 2010 at 12:07 pm

When I asked about getting catchlights, I didn’t expect such a thorough answer. A whole post with examples–I don’t know if my question inspired this, but this gives me a lot to go on. THANKS!



5 Mohanpreet Singh (MP) March 16, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Thanks again for a great post.
I tried the same technique some time back, and bounced my flash with black foam. It was in my living room . The black background was not wide enough. After the fact (Photoshop), i cloned that back part to the other areas in background. I also darkened the black with levels adjustment making it dark black.
Now with black background, and bounced flash (Neil’s way), that shot looks like a studio shot.



6 rafiayub March 18, 2010 at 1:15 am

Hi Neil,
The said catchlight on the boy’s eyes are in white color because the bounced wall is in white color. Am I right?
Should we control anything to keep the size of the catchlight on this case?

I have seen one Nikon D3 image with the Metadata 1/3 EV(exposure bias), Manual (exposure program) and Pattern (metering mode).

(Another image has seen with minus exposure compensation on manual mode
like -1 1/3 EV)

Exposure. Camera body Nikon D3. Lens 70-200 2.8 @ 1/40 sec at f/ 3.2 iso 1250 flash fired. Focal length 140 mm

How can we do exposure compensation on manual mode?

Normally, we will do exposure adjustment like one stop down on aperture or one stop up on shutter speed on manual mode. The exposure compensation can be done with aperture priority or shutter priority modes only.

The metadata has been read by Lightroom and I feel nobody can play with it.
Here I am confusing. Neil can you please help me.


7 Neil vN March 18, 2010 at 4:32 am

rafiayub .. I am sure that Lightroom must be seeing the Flash Exposure Compensation there.

However, with Nikon it is possible to adjust the overall exposure compensation on the camera’s body while in manual exposure mode …. and allow that to affect the TTL flash exposure.

Neil vN


8 rafiayub March 18, 2010 at 5:49 am

Hi Neil,
Thank you for the quick reply.

I would like to ask you one more thing about this image’s bounced flash lighting.
The boy’s hair received a ‘v’ shape lighting. I mean, the inner-side of ‘v’ shape not lighten and remains dark.

The total bounced light has got a special shape and final image is better than a studio sitting. Is there any relation between selected focusing point, subject situation and ttl flash?

Neil, are you doing some thing special activities here?

I am facinated with your all work and trying to learn deep into it than simply looking and going. I hope, these arising questions are not bad (not for only wasting your valuable time) and it will be good to all those who are watching it.


9 Neil vN March 18, 2010 at 6:53 am

I also noticed the pattern of light on his hair. This might be due to some available light in the room. There were tungsten spot-lights around.

However, I was busy shooting, so didn’t have the time to do comparative photos without flash.

So at this point I can’t give more info as to that specific light pattern on his hair.

Is there any relation between selected focus point, subject situation and TTL flash? While with some cameras your TTL flash exposure is affected by your focusing point selection …. and in an unrelated way, the quality and type of light is very much affected by how your subject is positioned …. I don’t think there is a direct relation between those three things as you mention them there.

Neil vN


10 Steve June 30, 2010 at 9:08 am


Do you find that for candids like these that your stop what they are doing for you to catch the moment? Obviously this little tike is a probably bit young to do it, but in other cases do you find in happening?

I’ve never shot a wedding, but my greatest fear in it is not getting good candids because people continue to move and do things, so to get the exposure right on the first shot is tough. Then you have to be like “okay, one more”, then dial in the new settings, hoping it’s right this time. Maybe it’s just that I’m always taking test shots of friends and fam, so they just ignore me now and go on with their business, but when the official wedding photographer stops to take a picture, they’ll be ready and willing and will wait a few moments longer if the first doesn’t turn out.

Do you find this to be the case?


11 Neil vN June 30, 2010 at 6:56 pm

Steve .. there is a problem with parents who react when they see me lift a camera. Too many of them interrupt their child’s natural behavior that I’m trying to photograph … and instruct to kid to “smile at the camera”. It just kills me. I have a photo then that is so much less than the natural one.

Older kids are then pre-conditioned to stop and smile at the camera. I tell them not to. Just ignore me. Over a short period they learn to anyway.

As for getting to the settings … this does come with time, pre-judging exposure and settings. Also, using TTL flash helps.

Here’s a related article on blending as a photographer at weddings.

Neil vN


12 Alwin June 15, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Niel, When bouncing flash from a ceiling is the only option and there is also little available light in a dark room then the eyes will be too dark. What do you think of my method of using flash in this kind of situation: I still use the BFT to avoid that flash will hit my subject directly. Of course the BFT is on the front side of the flash. Then I add a selfmade with bounce card to the back of the flashhead. This with card is 8 cm small but longer then the BFT so it will give a little bit of direct fill light on the subject. By moving the with card up or down I can adjust the amount of fill light. So I use the BFT and the white card together. But… I have not tried this out in a wedding, just some test pictures at home. What do you think of this?


13 Neil vN June 15, 2011 at 2:41 pm

That sounds like a solution to a tough situation.
Just make the bounce card as large as possible.

Neil vN


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