bounce flash photography

book On-Camera Flash Photography  (2nd ed.)

If you think I’ve been quiet on the Tangents blog the past few months … here is the reason why: I’ve been hard at work on the revised edition of On-Camera Flash Photography …  it’s just been announced for a Nov 2015 release date, and is available on pre-order with Amazon. I really am excited about this updated version of the best-selling book!

On-Camera Flash Photography (2nd edition)  – Amazon USA

On-Camera Flash Photography (2nd edition)  – Amazon UK

Based on the best-selling 1st edition, this is more than just a cosmetic overhaul. Combining older material which have been polished and streamlined, with lots of new material and trawling the Tangents blog for the best material.

At 35,000 words (the maximum the publisher would allow me), this is a concise introduction to on-camera flash photography, with the accent on demystifying flash. I concentrated on bounce flash photography for the latter half of the book, since I strongly believe that is where the magic lies with using on-camera flash.

One way in which this book has been radically changed from the first edition, is that it is now more of a work-book. There are several examples where you have to have your camera (and flash) in your hands, to step through the instruction. All the better to make sense of flash photography, and become confident in the use of flash photography.

For those of you who had asked for the images in the video of the review: comparing various light modifiers for on-camera flash – they are in the book!

The cover image was specifically decided on, and shot for this cover. I wanted an image that is striking. It really had to stand out. And it had to be truly illustrative of the beautiful light you can easily create with just your on-camera flash.

Here is how it came about …

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review: comparing various light modifiers for on-camera flash

Many of the tutorials and articles on the Tangents blog deals with getting the best from your on-camera flash. My approach has always been one of – what technique would give me the best light? Of course, there are so many different scenarios we could find ourselves in – so we have to adapt to where we are, and what we want to achieve.

With on-camera flash, I’ve always pushed back against the idea of there being a single do-everything device that will make your flash photography look better. Specifically with light and lighting, We need to be aware of where we are, and then adapt to get the best results. It really is up to us as creative photographers, to either take control or to adapt.

This is the main motif in my book, Direction and Quality of Light – once we understand and see this underlying principle of lighting – that it is all about the direction and quality of light – we have much more range in our abilities as photographers. And that has been my approach to using on-camera flash as well – I want good clean light.

Over time there has been many requests for a comparative review of the various on-camera flash modifiers on the market. So I decided to use a representative selection of them, and show the results from them in a very specific environment – bounce flash indoors. Keep in mind that I did not edit the photos of Adrienne, so that you’d have an idea of how much glare there is on her skin with some of the modifiers.

The focus of this video review is limited to just that scenario then. We don’t look at how these flash modifiers perform outdoors, or in venues where there isn’t much of anything to bounce flash off. The caveat of course is that we might just surprise ourselves when we find out how effective bare speedlight bounce flash is indoors in cavernous areas: high-ISO bounce flash photography.

Still, there is a huge amount of curiosity about how these flash modifiers compare and how well they fare against each other. Check out the video, and follow the linked articles for more.

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flash photography: how far can you bounce your flash?

The question regularly comes up: how far can you bounce your flash? The answer is quite straight-forward: It depends on the power of your flash, the bounce distance (and surfaces), ISO and aperture.

Power, distance, aperture and ISO – the four things that control flash exposure. Yup, we can’t really escape this.

So how far can you bounce your flash? It depends on how far (and reflective) the surfaces are that you are bouncing your flash off; as well as how high you’re willing to take your ISO and how wide you can take your aperture. And obviously, it depends on how powerful your flash is – which is why I would always recommend that you get the most powerful flash you can afford. There are advantages to this.

As an example, let’s analyze this image from a wedding, and see what went into creating it.

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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 advice 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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