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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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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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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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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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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