September 13, 2006

bouncing flash behind me – what am I bouncing off?

I’ve had a fair number of people writing in to tell me that they don’t quite understand what I am bouncing the flash off when I bounce behind me into an open room.

What is happening there, is that I am usually at a wide f-stop and a fairly high ISO – something like f2.8 and 800 ISO. This usually means that ANY light that bounces back from various objects in a room, will register in the image. The light from the strobe bounces back from furniture, other objects, part of the ceiling, some of the walls to the side. You’re in effect just flooding the entire place with light from your strobe – and at f2.8 it will register. Obviously it depends on the size of the room, etc. But just try it. :-)

Especially when you are using flash to augment the available light – you simply don’t need a lot of flash to have some effect.


help support this website

{ 13 comments. } Add a Comment

1 Richard May 6, 2008 at 11:47 pm


This is the single most brilliant piece of flash advice I have ever read. I just tried it now (with an older 420EX Speedlite) and it blew me away, it’s so simple yet brilliant. Silly me thought I could only bounce from the ceiling or a side wall. I have been reading Bill Hurter’s Wedding Photographers Handbook and saw some of your photos and your section on RAW workflow. So I decided to search for you on the Internet and I have learned a tremendous amount since finding your site yesterday. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.



2 Francisco May 26, 2009 at 6:21 am

Great info, thanks for taking the time to share. I suppose this technique works great as your pictures are fantastic. What would your approach be for shooting outdoors in the evening w/ on camera flash?


3 Tommy Rendra June 16, 2009 at 6:31 pm

I tried and used the advice. People were wondering what did I do, until I show them the picture. Great advice.


4 Amanda Tang July 2, 2009 at 3:25 pm

what do you do when you are in a banquet hall and the wall are drapped with fabric and your ceilings are high-vaulted or colored red. I encountered that and…. yikes! At times, I just had my assistant shadowing behind me with a fill. Is there a better approach?



5 Neil July 2, 2009 at 3:49 pm

Amanda … you’re right. At some point it just isn’t feasible to bounce flash like that and then you have to come up with alternatives. The best in terms of how “pretty” the lighting will look, is off-camera flash held up by an assistant.

Neil vN


6 Francisco July 2, 2009 at 10:16 pm

Ok, well, thanks anyway.


7 Rob July 22, 2009 at 2:03 pm

So in the example above it sounds like you are adjusting your ISO to affect the camera’s sensitivity to the light being created by the flash and cast on to the subject. How does that apply to the ambient/background of the shot? Is it a balance? I’ve read nearly every article on your website regarding flash in the last few days. I remember reading that in TTL mode, really the only way to control flash is through the flash exposure compensation adjustment. Is ISO adjustment in this scenario mainly to compensate for larger rooms/high ceilings?

I think I understand it in theory in a perfect world, the hardest thing for me to learn I guess is knowing when to tweak the theoretical values depending on the environment. But I guess that comes from experience!


8 Neil July 25, 2009 at 3:31 am

Rob .. since ISO affects manual flash exposure and ambient light equally, adjusting the ISO doesn’t affect the balance between manual flash and ambient. If you increase your ISO, it makes both your manual flash and ambient light brighter.

However, in TTL mode, the flash follows your settings. In other words, the camera will reduce the amount of flash to what it deems to be correct. So if you increase your ISO setting, the ambient exposure will be affected, but not the flash exposure.

So you have it correct there .. in large rooms or someplace where I need to help the TTL flash exposure, then I will increase my ISO.

Neil vN


9 nan sanders February 16, 2010 at 7:07 pm

i have a question about depth of field for groups (even just 4 people)in the same shot.
What about everyone being in focus at f2.8 or so? Also what about dance floor shots
at such low f stops? Does a high ISO eliminate focal blur, and digital noise as well.

Thanks. Great info and I just ordered your book from Amazon.


10 nan sanders February 16, 2010 at 7:10 pm

but you say bouncing the flash behind you—is the flash turned backwards ? /



11 Neil February 17, 2010 at 2:17 am

Nan .. hi there …

If you’re going to use such a shallow depth of field, you need to make sure that everyone’s face is i the same plane of focus.

As for wedding receptions, I most often use wider apertures … and usually in the f3.5 – f2.8 region .. sometimes faster.
It depends on how much depth of field I need. It’s usually not much .. just the subject needs to be sharp.

I have no idea what you mean by: Does a high ISO eliminate focal blur, and digital noise as well.

To bounce your flash behind you, you HAVE to have a speedlight that can swivel and rotate. But you have to have that any way.

Neil vN


12 edy May 26, 2011 at 9:51 am

Ciao Neil,
trovo questo articolo veramente stupendo…..devo dire che la mia nikon d 200 aumentando la sensibilita’ iso sopra 500 la foto e’ gia’ pessima.
Ci sono altre soluzioni?
Grazie in anticipo.
Edy Trigona Genova italy


13 Neil vN May 26, 2011 at 11:01 am

Hello Neil,
I find this article really beautiful … I must say that with my Nikon D200 increasing the sensitivity over 500 ISO, the photos start to look bad.
Are there other solutions?
Thanks in advance.
Edy Trigona Genoa Italy

Hi there Edy

If your ISO becomes the limiting factor, then you have a few choices:
– you are going to LOVE the Nikon D700, or
– get a more powerful flashgun, or
– use faster lenses.

Those three decisions will affect your flash exposure with bounce flash – ISO, power, aperture.

The other control – distance – isn’t something we can really affect most of the times with bounce flash, unless we use start using umbrellas and other light modifiers which we can bring closer.

Neil vN


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: