bounce flash photography

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.

An uncomplicated portrait of Anelisa that shows the specific elements that I work toward with bounce flash:
– catchlights in the eyes
– directional light which can be observed here as that gradient of light across her cheek
– no hard shadows from direct flash

I most often do this by bouncing my flash behind me, or 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 (B&H) – 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  (B&H) and Nikon 35mm f/1.4G  (B&H) 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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manual on-camera bounce flash

With the response to the article on bounce flash photography at wedding receptions, it might be good to continue the topic. While I prefer TTL flash when I use bounce flash, there are times when I do use my on-camera flash in manual exposure mode when I bounce it.

Julie & Kenny’s wedding, at the Laurita Winery, NJ, proved to be a bit of a challenge with the reception. The reception area was in the winery which had a beautiful interior … but it wasn’t white. Bounce flash was a touch more difficult than usual here.

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bounce flash photography / lighting at wedding receptions

This photograph from a recent wedding got a few comments and questions in the album on Facebook. The questions really hinged around “where did all that light come from?” or whether I had used off-camera flash.

The purple and blue light in the back-ground is from the up-lighting from the entertainment / DJ company. The light on the couple entering the reception room … is all one on-camera bounce flash.

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bounce flash photography

An image from the archives – a jazz trumpet player during a session in a club, lit by on-camera bounce flash. Since it’s a perfect example of how I use on-camera bounce flash so that it looks nothing like on-camera flash, I’d like to use it to illustrate this summary of on-camera bounce flash technique:

The light in this image is nearly all from my flash. The red hue in the background, and spilling onto part of the trumpet and his skin, is from the strong red lights in the night-club. To eliminate this, I under-exposed the ambient light, by choosing my camera settings accordingly.  (See the comparison photo below.)

By under-exposing the ambient light, the flash becomes the main source of light … and this allowed me to control the quality of light.

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wedding photography: using high ISO and flash to retain ambience at the reception

Chatting with other photographers at the recent WPS convention in Chapel Hill, NC, I was again struck by how there are so many different ways of approaching lighting. In this case, lighting at the wedding reception. The one photographer I was chatting to, set up multiple speedlights around the reception room, and then controls which are fired, from his on-camera Master speedlight.  Very impressive.

In recent years, the wedding reception venues where I’ve shot on the East Coast of the USA, have moved away from being the dark-hole large rooms, by adding up-lighting, and making the places generally more vibrant and colorful. Coupled with the astonishing high-ISO capability of the last two generations of cameras, I really haven’t felt the need to set up additional lighting to lift the general light levels, like I would have in the past, as described in this article:
wedding photography: TTL flash with off-camera manual flash
A wedding from earlier this year, at the same venue … where I was able to effectively light the entire place with just an on-camera speed light.
bounce flash photography & the inverse square law

By using a higher ISO, and carefully bouncing my flash, I could get away with a much simpler set-up of a single on-camera speedlight.

Here’s an example of a recent wedding, where the reception was in a glass-house style conservatory. By shooting against the DJ’s lights, I was able to NOT have a dark background, but something colorful instead.

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