candid portrait at event, with bounce flash

shooting candid portrait at events, with bounce flash

My favorite image from a Bar Mitzvah party that I photographed.  It is one from a series of candid (or semi-candid) portraits of various guests and their kids at the party.  Aside from the obvious photographs that need to be taken during these kinds of events, I also try and grab more candid images, and for these a telephoto zoom (70-200mm f2.8) works really well.

By going wide open on this lens, you can really isolate your subject .. and also draw in more of the available light.  In this case the background is a mixture of out-of-focus balloons and the DJ’s lights and stuff. The best of these images are usually those where I am fortunate in getting a nice expression .. while still being able to position myself so that the background is complementary or interesting.


camera settings & equipment (and alternatives)

My settings:  1/160 @ f2.8 @ 1600 ISO
Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S VR II (vendor)  /  Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II (vendor)
Nikon SB-910 Speedlight (vendor)  /  Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite (vendor)

My settings were chosen such that enough of the background shows.  Lighting is quite simple as usual, and was just one on-camera speedlight, flagged with the black foamie thing to give directional light on this boy’s face.  I did have a 1/2 CTS gel on my speedlight to help match it with the tungsten lighting in the reception venue.  As such my white balance was set to 3700K.  As an aside, that image is straight out of ACR with no further adjustments from my usual defaults for the RAW file.  I did no editing in Photoshop to it.

And there you have it: a quick semi-candid portrait with simple, yet effective, lighting.


gelling your flash

Since I frequently gel my flashguns to turn the WB of my flash much warmer (usually for  Incandescent light), I use these gels that I cut up and tape to the top of my speedlight’s head. One of these sheets (which aren’t expensive), will give you a lifetime supply of these filters. For me, these gels are an invaluable part of flash photography. 

Tape the gels down on your lens hood when not in use.


related links

19 Comments, Add Your Own

  1. 3Nick says

    Hey Neil,

    I’ve been perusing your site for sometime and I really value your skill, insight, and ability to articulate confusing concepts. I know you’ve recently put out a book about on-camera flash…but I was wondering if you had any plans to write about portable location lighting/off-camera flash. Even a DVD of one of your workshops would be extremely cool.

    All the best,

  2. 5George Vivanco says

    I also love reading everthing you put into your site. Can’t speak
    for the rest but sometimes I find myself reading and watching so much information (books, blogs, DVD’s) that I sometimes
    forget to go out and shoot. Being a father of 4 small
    children my time is very limiting, but I have found myself recently taking my daughter to the duck park
    and just using all those tips I read and watched.
    “Just Shoot”

  3. 6Thomas says

    Hi Neil,

    I realy like this foto. your site is my sourc for ‘how an image should look like’ based on coler and light.
    for me it’s amazing that ISO setting was as high as 1600. when I use ISO 400 or above on my CANON 5D MK II (with prime lenses, RAW) I never get clear images like this. do you use any high-ISO noise reduction settings in the camera? Also the colors are beautiful, perfect skin tones, so natural. may i ask about your ACR default settings to get an approach?


  4. 8Dragos says

    Hello, neil, and thanks for all the effort on your wonderful web site.

    I have a question which I think I have an answer to already, but still… Do I understand it correctly that when using TTL flash, it calculates the power it needs to give for a given combination of ISO + shutter speed + aperture based on the distance to subject as transmitted by the lens (at least original manufacturer lens, such as Canon)? If so, the power a flash outputs will necessarily be less if it is bounced from a wall/ceiling/a larger back room like you illustrated in one fo the articles. Does that mean that I always need to dial in + EV compensation on the flash in order to get good exposure of the foreground subject or does the camera somehow know (is aware of flash head being tilted/swiveled?) that the flash is not direct and that +EV compensation will be necessary?

    Thank you,

  5. 9 says

    Dragos .. in theory, the camera and flash will calculate correct TTL flash exposure for you, by using a preflash sequence that it measures to determine how much flash to actually put out during the main flash burst.

    So in theory you shouldn’t have to add more FEC to get correct exposure when you bounce flash. But .. you also have no way of knowing what algorithms kick into play when you swivel your flash-head out of the ‘normal’ position.

    This implies though that you have to just get used to your specific camera’s behaviour in general when you bounce flash.

    Neil vN

  6. 10Jennifer says

    What a beautiful image… and darn it to heck! I had no idea you were coming to Austin! Question about the picture – if you have flash on camera, how are you avoiding pin lights? Those catch lights are in the perfect spot!

  7. 11 says

    Jennifer, if you are getting pin-sized highlights in your subject’s eyes .. then most likely it is because of how you bounce flash. If you’re indoors, remove your plastic flash modifier. Bounce flash behind you. But bounce it at a low enough angle that the light doesn’t come in steeply from above. (This would give you shadows in the eye-sockets.)

    If you bounce your flash over your shoulder, or off to the side, at a low enough angle .. then these large catchlights are nearly predictably there. Every time. (Assuming of course you have bouncable surfaces indoors.)

    Follow the articles from this page onwards on .

    Neil vN

  8. 12 says

    Neil, lovely shot!!!
    Where did you bounce this (how low?) to avoid a lot of shadow under his hat? At those settings, I would think you were a couple of stops below ambient.

  9. 13 says

    Andrew, as mentioned elsewhere .. the trick is to bounce your flash at a low enough angle behind you, and even off to the side from you. Then you will get enough light in there under the hat.

    Neil vN

  10. 14Artur Ocubaro says

    Hi Neil! It’s always a pleasure to see your instructions and knowledge about light and other stuffI’veve already read twice your book and still learning a lot. But what I’m really impressed in your site is the colour of all your photos. The spectacular vivivd colours! So… you use some kind of post production to emphazise them? Is there any specific control on camera to make? Or is just your magic? I’m really dazzled by the colours!
    Thanks and congratulations for everything you ve been done!

  11. 16ed says


    I’ve tried to bounce the flash behind me. Do you ever used it as the main light?
    From my experience, it’s ok if it’s just for fill flash, but it will never cut it for the main light.

    I bounce it at a wall about 5-6 meters behind me, and already at the maximum at everything. 1600 ISO (the maximum at my cam), f2.8 and 1/50.

  12. 18Ed says

    Yeah, I’ve read all your article, but i just need to know one thing that i still don’t know.
    It is about using the bounce flash behind me as the main light, have you ever used it?
    I saw some of your work with bouncing the flash behind, but only for subtle fill flash.
    Btw sorry if my english confused you, it’s my third language :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *