bounce flash photography

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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bounce flash comparison: with & without the black foamie thing

One of the presentations that I gave at the After Dark event in St Louis, was (perhaps inevitably by now), about bounce flash photography. Part of this was a sequence explaining how the direction that you bounce your flash into, will define the light pattern on your subject. The black foamie thing helps in directing the light from your flash, especially if you want short lighting on your subject.

And here is the comparison – with the black foamie thing, and without. Without flagging the flash, there is direct flash. Then the light is flat and specular and there is a distinct hard shadow that isn’t flattering.

camera settings for both images:  1/200 @ f/4 @ 800 ISO
I had our model stand close to a wall (with wooden trim). She was about 6 or 8 feet away from the wall.
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how do you meter for TTL flash & ambient light?

In taking these kinds of candid images, I set the camera so that there is enough light recorded on the test shots without flash. No real metering technique, but I judge by the LCD to see that there will be enough detail in the background. It is kinda the dragging the shutter technique, but not as specific perhaps. I just want some ambient light to register.

Then I simply use TTL flash to expose correctly for any subject which is turned away from the main source of ambient light – the window. Without flash, these kids’ features would be in deep shade relative to the rest. But the TTL flash lifts the exposure to where I want it to be … with everything well exposed.

It really is that simple, and this technique allows me to shoot fast, and get great candid shots by concentrating on the photography and not the specific settings all the time.

I used the Black Foamie Thing ™ to flag my flash and not hit people behind me in the face with a strong burst of flash.

The back-ground is quite well-lit, because in bouncing flash behind me, the background inevitably opens up a bit. Again, this is the inverse square law helping us out with bounce flash photography.

camera settings: 1/125th @ f4 @ 1250 ISO  (FEC not recorded.)

So back to the question, how did I meter for the ambient light here? I didn’t. And I certainly did not meter for the white tones via the histogram method. The reason is – I don’t want to expose correctly for my ambient light. The light levels are too low – ie, I won’t get enough depth-of-field, at a good shutter speed, at a useful ISO … with good quality light on my subject. So I purposely want to under-expose for the ambient light. And then I add TTL flash. The TTL flash here is a dominant light source, and not mere fill-flash. Hence, carefully metering for the ambient light here isn’t all that useful.

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when you need extreme bounce flash to photograph the wedding processional

As mentioned in the article on photographing the wedding processional, in my opinion, the wedding processional in the church is likely the most challenging part of the day in terms of our technique. People are moving towards you – admittedly at slow pace, unless the bridesmaids are nervous. Then they can easily just zip right up to the front! The light levels are low, and the light is most likely uneven. Adding flash to this is a reliable way to get clean open light on your subjects, but bounce flash can be a bit of a challenge.

As an example, with this wedding in Temple Israel of Lawrence, in New York, the light was really low. Not just that, the temple itself was cavernously huge. Yet, a few test shots showed that I could get the kind of light that I like, using just on-camera bounce flash.

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What if you need more light from your bounce flash?

Because I so often use on-camera bounce flash, one of the questions I’m regularly asked is, what if there is nothing to bounce your flash off? There is also the variant – what if there isn’t enough light from the bounced flash?

In both cases, the answer is the same – you improvise!
Not only that, but you need to be prepared to improvise.

The photograph above is from a recent Bat Mitzvah, showing the big group shot of the kids. If you’ve photographed Bar / Bat Mitzvahs before, you know this is coming up, and you have to be prepared for it.

You’re prepared for it by:
– having a ladder handy to stand on
– a wide enough lens and enough space to move back into
– enough light!

You can not just be passive and go … oh, oops! You need to be prepared and have done some homework before any event you photograph. (It seems such an obvious thing to even need stating like that!)

This particular venue has a really awkwardly shaped ceiling, and it has a bronze color in places. So it makes bounce flash photography a bit of a challenge, but I was able to get pretty good results by pushing the ISO higher. Using a camera like the Nikon D4 is an obvious boost here!

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bounce flash photography

bouncing your on-camera flash behind you

A comment posted to the article, directional light from your on-camera flash, asked a lot of questions about bounce flash photography. While most of these have been answered over time in various articles, it might be a good thing to pull it all together in directly answering those questions here.

This uncomplicated portrait of Anelisa was shot during the podcast Don’t Fear Your Flash. It shows the specific elements that I want with bounce flash:

To get flattering light from my on-camera bounce flash, I most often bounce the flash behind me, or somewhat towards the side.

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Ulorin Vex bounce flash portrait

bounce flash portrait & Photoshop retouching technique

When we were done with the studio shoot with Ulorin Vex, we still had a few minutes left, so I thought I could do a bounce flash portrait as well. Just for a comparison of sorts to show that on-camera bounce flash can give interesting results too. Here is the low-key portraits we did with the Profoto set-up.

The only semi-interesting background I could find in the studio (that wasn’t a white wall), was this grungy green door to one of the store-rooms. I thought it might work as a gritty urban setting. I shot about eight frames in the tight corner, but didn’t like what I saw on the back of my camera, so called it a day. We were done.

Looking through the images again today, cleaning up my hard drives, I hovered over the first image I took and thought it might hold some promise still if I worked it a little bit in Photoshop. Here is where I started …

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night-club photos – Modern Gypsies – mermaid

When the Modern Gypsies asked me to photograph their one performance piece in a night-club in Manhattan, I wasn’t sure what equipment to bring along. I tend to over-prepare and bring too much. You know, just in case. So I have a tendency to overload myself with gear at times. It’s a discipline thing then to strip it down to just the essentials … but still be flexible enough to accomodate a challenging situation.

The previous time I photographed them, I knew there would be a large prep room, so I could bring in extra gear such as light-stands and softboxes. It worked out quite well for the example I showed on the Tangents blog – Modern Gypsies – masked dancers, as well as other photos out on the street, where the off-camera flash helped.

This time, I suspected I might need to travel much lighter. Night clubs aren’t the placed to walk around loaded with gear. So while I did load off-camera lighting and such into my car, I left most of my gear in the car. In my shoulder bag – the Think Tank Retrospective 20 (vendor) – I kept only the one  camera, three lenses, and two speedlights.

The performer is Irene, also known as Bird Girl in other performances. (You can follow her as @violinartiste on Instagram)

The photo at the top was taken with the Nikon D4 (vendor) and Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.4G (vendor) using only the lights there in the night-club. camera settings:  1/60 @ f/1.8 @ 3200 ISO  The available light looked great when it worked to my advantage, but I soon knew that I’d need to add a bit of fill-light from bounce flash

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