bounce flash photography

bounce flash photography & the inverse square law

After you’re done noticing the decorated candles that the bride is holding while dancing with the groom (a tradition in Palestinian weddings), you may well notice how evenly lit this photograph is – from foreground to background.

The people visible in the background seen there between the bride and the groom, are nearly as well lit as the bride and groom. Because this was on-camera bounce flash, the background will be brighter than may have been anticipated. If I had used direct flash, or flash with a diffuser cup or bounce card, my background would’ve been much darker. This is because when we bounce flash behind us, the Inverse Square Law works for us.

This gets interesting, but hopefully we can make it less complicated than the topic often appears. So hang in there …

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wedding photography – using bounce flash outside

When working with a couple during the romantic portrait session, there’s the need to bring variety to the images – not just in posing and composition, but also in terms of light & lighting. For this reason I use a variety – available light; video light; off-camera flash and on-camera bounce flash. I really like using on-camera bounce flash since it is such an easy light source to use, always at hand. There was a recent article on using bounce flash outdoors, but I’d like to add another example where I used bounce flash outside a wedding venue. Let’s look at the sequence of images …

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bounce flash photography & white balance settings

A question that often comes up, is whether the white balance will change when bouncing flash. The answer is an obvious one – yes, the light will pick up any color cast from a non-white surface. But that is why we need to shoot in RAW. Then the decision about exact White Balance becomes less crucial.

The photograph above, is of Roz, and was taken during the recent flash photography workshops in Dublin, Ireland. Roz was Ireland’s contestant in the 2010 Miss Universe contest, so it was quite a privilege to have her as one of our two workshop models!

The lighting in this image is simplicity itself:  on-camera bounce flash, with the black foamie thing as a flag to block the light from the flash directly hitting her. Of course, the ambient light coming in through the window acts as a secondary light, helping with a bit of rim-light there and also in creating background lighting.

In getting the light from my on-camera flash to come in from a pleasing angle – short lighting – I had to bounce the flash off the wooden panelling in the room. This of course made for a far-too-warm white balance:

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bouncing flash forward without getting that direct flash look

When bouncing my on-camera flash, I rarely point the flash straight-up. Most often the flash is pointed behind me or to the side to a certain extent. This way I get directional light. I want that off-camera soft-box effect. However there are those times when it just isn’t that practical.

With this recent wedding, the indoor ceremony was held in this large room. As you can see here in this test shot, the ceiling isn’t white, but is a light brown, with wooden beams. The thick cross-beams have the effect of blocking flash when bounced, containing the spread of light.

Bouncing flash behind me just about killed the light from my flash, so little of it returned to light my subject. So for the ceremony, kneeling down in the center aisle, I had to get light onto the bride and groom. The most logical way to do this, and still get good soft light on the couple, was to point my light forward at an angle to get enough light there … but I still needed to block direct flash from hitting them.

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using on-camera bounce flash outdoors

With wedding photography, when doing the night-time romantic portraits of the couple, the pressure is usually on. The only opportunity to whisk the couple away for a few minutes, is during dinner time, when the party is at a lull. The pressure is on because you have even less time than you had during the earlier part of the day, and you also don’t want to lose the attention of your couple who wants to get back to their guests at the reception.

I usually scout a few places before-hand, getting a clear idea of what I want. When setting out with the couple, I rely on bounce flash and on video light. There is rarely time for carrying around a soft-box. You need to move fast, set up fast … and still come up with the goods.

With this wedding from the past weekend, I wanted to capture two specific portraits of the couple with the outside of the venue as a backdrop. I would normally have used video light here, but I had the idea that I wanted the compression from a longer lens … the 70-200mm f2.8 … and then the person holding the video light would be in shot. So the solution was to get flash in there. Where we were working outside there, I fortunately had part of the building to bounce my flash off.

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wedding portraits: finding something to bounce your flash off

One of the frequent questions that come up, is what to do when there is nothing to bounce your flash off.  When working indoors and there are bounce-able surfaces around me, my first instinct is to use on-camera bounce flash. It is easy to use, and the results can look surprisingly good, especially if you consider the minimal effort that went into it. No extra gear to carry around and set up. But when there is nothing to bounce flash off, you have to adapt your technique …

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video clip – using the black foamie thing

When bouncing your flash, flagging your on-camera speedlight is a simple way of controlling the direction of light from your flash .. and hence, controlling the quality of light from the on-camera flash. I use a simple piece of black foam – the infamous black foamie thing, to achieve this.

To help explain the use of the Black Foamie Thing (BFT), I met up with Anelisa to create a short video clip.

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video light vs bounce flash

February 23, 2011

video light vs bounce flash

It’s easy enough getting nice clean open light with a single on-camera speedlight when shooting indoors. By bouncing your flash with the idea of getting directional light from your flash, you can effortlessly get portraits like this. As usual, I used the black foamie thing to flag my flash and get more light on the one side of my subject’s face. In this case, more subtly so than some other examples on this site.

We were working in the same location here as shown in the previous article where I photographed Shawna using only the available light. However, for certain photographs I had in mind, it quickly became obvious that a more contained light source than bounce flash would work better. When compared to a light source like a video light, bounce flash tends to flood an indoor location with light, even if directional when you look at your subject. A hand-held video light gave me the type of lighting I wanted …

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bounce flash photography technique – mimicking window light

The classic shot – a beautiful bride lit by soft window light.
That’s a yes on the beautiful bride – but it’s a solid no on the window light.
What you see there is on-camera flash.  (Which most likely won’t be a surprise to regular readers of the Tangents blog.)

This image is from a wedding this past weekend, and it makes a great example of how light, choice of lens, composition, angle and technique come together to make an image work. With a bit of post-processing added finally for that vintage feel.

Let’s look at the light first .. how I used on-camera bounce flash for my lighting here.

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an example of using on-camera bounce flash outside

This photograph of our model, Precious, taken during a flash photography workshop, is an example from the practical session where we used areas outside to bounce our flash off. By adding that bit of light from our on-camera speedlights, we can sweeten the existing light.

Working in the early evening in lower light levels, it becomes easier to get effective light from our speedlight even when bounced off the side of a building.

camera settings: 1/60 @ f3.2 @ 800 ISO – on-camera TTL flash, bounced.
Nikon D3;  Nikon 24-70mm f2.8G ED AF-S (B&H);  Nikon SB-900

My starting point for my camera settings was to expose correctly for the city scene behind our model. Then I added the light from the speed light.

Here is the pull-back shot to show what we bounced our flash off …

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