bounce flash photography

high-ISO bounce flash photography

The last wedding of the year just behind me, I want to use one of my favorite images to touch again on the recent topic of high-ISO bounce flash with on-camera speedlight. I want to show that the results aren’t a fluke – but that with a consistent approach to bounce flash photography, you can get consistent results. However, since we shoot under various scenario changes, we have to adapt a bit.

The venue was this hotel reception room with massively high ceilings … but with the walls closer by. Easy enough to bounce on-camera flash off. The one challenge here were the huge mirrors along the walls. This caused unpredictable reflections. It also flattened the light too much when shooting towards the shorter width of the room. So I ended up shooting as much as I could towards the longer end of the reception room.

Yes, the photo above was lit with a single on-camera bounce flash, shooting at a high ISO.

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high-ISO bounce flash photography

One of the misconceptions about bounce flash photography that many photographers cling to, is that you absolutely need a white wall or ceiling near you. While it does help, this shouldn’t stop you from trying to be a little adventurous with on-camera bounce flash to see if it gets you the results you want. There have been several articles on the topic of bouncing off various other surfaces, or, not any particular surface nearby:

Let’s step through another recent example: Gaby and Michael’s wedding reception was at a winery, with the reception venue a huge area with stone and cement walls. It was a beautiful venue, but dark. The top-heavy lighting didn’t help either.

Sometimes … actually, very often … you just need to add additional lighting to the mix to get the results you and your clients want. Simple as that. Then it is up to you to figure out a way that best serves that need – good lighting while retaining the look and feel of the place.

I’m hesitant to use multiple flashes in the corners of a venue – the cross-lighting can look wonderful when it works, but very often leads to weird cross shadows. I prefer predictable results. So for me, multiple light sources wouldn’t be a first choice.

I tried the Profoto B1 as a bounce flash into the area, but it wouldn’t give predicable results, or … it would mean that my assistant would have to scurry around and help match the direction that I am shooting in. This can get a little hectic.

I then did a few test shots with on-camera bounce flash to see if it was feasible. And at full manual power, and selectively bouncing, I could get pretty good light at high ISO settings and wider apertures!

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various scenarios: balancing flash with ambient light

Adding flash to ambient light – its’s a topic that can appear to be confusing. With advic that ranges from under-exposing the ambient light by a stop or two … or dialing FEC down for fill-flash, or advice that you should be metering for the background … it all appears confusing and contradictory.

What we do, and the thought-process we step through, depends on the (lighting) situation we find ourselves in. There isn’t one blanket do-all method. No single piece of instruction that will fit every occasion.

So let’s try to work through various general scenarios, to see how we’d approach each one:

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using bounce flash vs. available light vs. using the videographer’s light

The expressive trumpet player in the band at a wedding – a simple portrait of this musician, sweetened with some bounce flash. The light on his face, is by now perhaps predictably, on-camera bounce flash with the black foamie thing.  Looking at the light pattern on his face, you’ll see there was no direct flash of any kind.

camera settings:  1/60 @ f2.8 @ 2000 ISO // TTL flash
Nikon D3; Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S VR II;   Nikon SB-910 Speedlight

In comparison, here are a few other images.  One with no flash, so we can see the effect of the bounce flash.  Another image with just available light; and another image where I was able to use the light from the videographer’s camera.

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bounce flash photography – adjusting the black foamie thing to be a snoot

During the day, as I photograph a wedding, I am continually mixing up the lighting, adapting and adjusting. It’s part of the process of giving my clients as much variety as possible, and also just being flexible in adapting to the demands of the various locations. It’s therefore a varied approach in using all kinds of light sources: off-camera flash, on-camera flash, video light and available light. It’s part of the fun, and part of the challenge of being a wedding photographer – thinking on your feet. Of course there’s extra pressure on you as photographer when you’re flown to Melbourne, Australia to photograph a wedding!

The morning after Peiwen and Eric’s wedding, they had the Tea Ceremony with the parents, and Peiwen was in traditional dress. I just had to get more portraits of the two of them, and with Peiwen in this striking red dress.

In the elevator lobby on their floor, there were these seats and mirrors and wood paneling that looked like it would make an elegant setting for some portraits of the couple. But the light there was uneven, and not very bright. I needed to add some light, but only had a video light with me, and on-camera flash. With that large mirror, someone holding up a video light would’ve involved a lot of Photoshop work. So the next option – bounce flash. But again, that large mirror there was a challenge.

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wedding photography: bounce flash “indoors” … in the limo

This is a reminder that when you have a high-contrast situation such as when photographing the bride and groom inside the limo – then using on-camera bounce flash is your easiest way to control the lighting. Simply bounce your flash behind you into the limo. Even with the dark interior and fittings inside a limo, enough light should spill back to lift the shadow detail.

The trick here of course is to expose correctly for the ambient light, if possible. With the camera settings then dictated by the ambient light coming through the window, simply use TTL flash to give enough fill-light. Dial down the FEC if necessary.

If you look closely at this image, you’ll see the slight trace of the shadow from the flash – this is because, even though I bounced the flash upwards behind me, I hit the ceiling of the limo and with it so close to the flash, it created a secondary smaller light source instead of just the larger bounced light source. Even with that, the effect looks quite natural, and the reduced contrast certainly did help post-processing.

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wedding photography – adapting photography lighting during the wedding day

When I posted the photographs of a recent wedding in an album on FB, there were a lot of questions regarding my lighting. The answer is an easy one – I change it up as needed, throughout the day. Whatever is needed to give me the best results the fastest. It’s rarely just one thing. So with Alesha and Patrick’s wedding, I used on-camera flash, off-camera flash (with a soft box), Profoto on-location lighting kit, and of course, if it worked, then I just used the available light. The one only lighting option that I regularly use at weddings, that I didn’t use on this day – video light.

The image at the top, of Alesha just as she finished her prep, was shot with just the fluorescent lights in the room. The color versions look good too, but I really liked the simplicity of B&W here.

Let’s step through a few images, and discuss what I used in terms of lighting, and the how and why …

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wedding photography – detail shots, bounce flash & macro lenses

Macro photography for wedding detail shots is one of those areas where you need a smaller aperture. I know it’s been suggested by some high-profile photographer(s) that you shoot macro at f/2.8 but this is tough advice to follow. If you even breathe, your plane of focus changes for that close distance you’re working at.

That smaller aperture (and I regularly work at f/11 or there-abouts), implies you will need a lot of light. A lot of daylight or lots of flash. When you’re shooting indoors, this means flash, although it is entirely possible to use video light for macro detail photos.

As described in the article, tips for detail shots of the wedding rings, I use the black foamie thing and on-camera bounce flash to create soft direction light. With flash I can more easily get that lots-of-light for smaller apertures.

As with the photograph at the top, with photographing details, I want the light to come from the opposite side than the camera. This creates a kind of wrap-around light as the bounce flash spills all around, but with the shadowed areas towards the camera. In other words, it looks nothing like you’d expect flash to look like.

camera settings: 1/250 @ f/5.6 @ 1600 ISO
It’s unusual for me to shoot macro at this medium aperture. And as you can see from the photo, the depth-of-field it already quite shallow.

A pull-back shot to show exactly where I bounced my flash …

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bounce flash photography tip – bouncing flash towards a window

During the part of the on-location lighting workshop where we play with bounce flash, Anelisa was posing on a chair, and eventually ended up in this dramatic pose. Even though she had turned away from the wall areas where we could bounce flash off, I didn’t want to change her pose.

The area to camera-left, was the large window of the studio space, so this meant using that to bounce my flash off. Naturally, most of the light will be lost.  But as shown in these previous articles;
— using on-camera bounce flash outside  (model: Precious)
— mimicking window light with off-camera bounce flash  (model: Ulorin Vex)
— and as per one example in my book, on-camera flash,
it is entirely possible to get enough light to return from the window panes, when shooting at a certain angle, and with realistic camera settings.

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my favorite lighting setup to photograph kids indoors – bounce flash!

Meet Jack. He’s 1 year old. We kinda photographed him just over a year ago with the maternity photo session with his mom and dad. But this is him now, for real.

When Amy and Nick asked me to do a portrait session with him, we started off at their house. I wanted to grab a few candid photos of Jack happily playing before we set off to a nearby park. Since kids scoot around all over the place, for me, it made most sense to just use on-camera bounce flash. Minimal gear – just the speedlight on my camera. And of course, the black foamie thing.

Shooting in TTL mode, meant the flash exposure was pretty much spot on every time, regardless of where Jack zipped around.

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