what if bounce flash isn’t strong enough?

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!

camera settings & gear used (or equivalents) for this image

  • 1/80 @ f/4 @ 3200 ISO … on-camera bounce flash

But with a Bar Mitzvah, I also know that:

1.) I will have to photograph family groups before the event. So I have a setup ready for that with off-camera flash. For this evening, I used a setup as described in this article: positioning your flash for the formals. However, photographing the groups in a smaller room here, I had the off-camera flash closer than described in that article. Obviously.

2.) I will have to photograph the candle-lighting. (People at a static position from the camera – this makes manual flash more likely.)

3.) I will have to photograph the big group of kids.

For that, when the candle-lighting started, I had placed an off-camera speedlight on a tall light-stand behind me on the dance-floor somewhere, to blast some extra light. Depending on the venue, it is usually with the additional off-camera flash bounced into the ceiling – because I don’t want a large white shoot-through umbrella to block the guests’ view. So for important parts of the event, I had an off-camera bounce flash ready to add more light, as needed.

 

camera settings & gear used (or equivalents) for this image

  • 1/125 @ f/4.5 @ 1600 ISO
  • on-camera bounce flash, and an additional off-camera bounce flash

 

This also means that when the group shot arrives, I move back, grab the ladder, and climb up.

camera settings & gear used (or equivalents) for this image

  • 1/125 @ f/8 @ 1600 ISO
  • on-camera bounce flash, and an additional off-camera bounce flash

 

I had a wider lens, the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G AF-S (vendor), on my other camera over my shoulder to switch to, if my workhorse 24-70 wasn’t wide enough. No frantic groping for another lens in the camera bag! I was prepared for that, just in case.

Back to the original question: what do I do if I don’t have enough light from my bounce flash?  Well, I do something else.

When I get that question, I always have to wonder if the question is meant as a challenge: “weeeeell, bounce flash isn’t going to work all the time, you know!” … or whether people really do want to know. The answer seems so obvious?

So there it is – I improvise. I adapt. It’s never just the one thing with lighting – on-camera bounce flash. That would be too limiting. As an event photographer, I would be negligent to arrive with just that, and then hope for the best. I always have more gear than would be necessary. Not just back-up gear, but faster lenses than my f/2.8 zooms, and more light than just a speedlight.

You have to be ready, and you have to be able to improvise and adapt.

 

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16 Comments, Add Your Own

  1. Jubar Alom says

    Would you use and are you using CTS/CTO gels. With so many colours around an indoor event such as this. Would you recommend a tungsten gel with colour balance of 3800-2900 as a default in an indoor event?

    Thank you for your time,

    Jubar

  2. Alex Calixto says

    Hi Neil,

    Have you use the large Rogue FlashBender to bounce the flash when there is no wall or ceiling available? If so, how was your experience? Do you recommend it? If not, why would you not use it? Too small surface?

    Thank you,
    Alex

  3. Justin says

    Neil,

    I see you used the Nikon 24-70 for these photos, which, if I’m not mistaken, doesn’t have image stabilization/vibration reduction. When using shutter speeds like you did here (e.g., 1/80th or slower), how often do you have issues with camera shake and/or subject movement with this lens? Thanks as always for the great post.

    Justin

  4. says

    Hi Neil
    Quick question for you ,I need a little clarification .
    How did you determine the ambient exposure…..
    Did you use the Histogram method using the white from the girls shirt for example.

    Thanks

    Lou Recine

  5. says

    No! Not in this situation.

    Lou, I am going to leave this for you to mull over a while. You have the answer already .. just think it over. And I’ll touch on this topic with a proper blog post in the next few days.

  6. Jubar Alom says

    ‘You never mention lens filters?’

    Sorry I think I am confused. I do not really use lens filters. Well I have a polarizing filter, but I never really use it.

    I was trying to determine whether by placing a 1/2 cts or full cts whether the WB in camera is set to tungsten or to manually change kelvins to either 3800 or 2900 depending on which one is in need.

    Thank,

    Jubar

  7. mike says

    Neil,
    that group shot is with one speedlight????

    ps pocketwizard flex question: flex on camera, I can use the AC3 to control remote flashes. Once I put a flash on camera, I have to control remote flashes from the on camera flash?? is that correct?? ty

  8. says

    No, there were two flashes. One on my camera, and one off-camera flash.

    I photographed the party with just one on-camera flash … but I had the off-camera flash handy for when I needed extra juice.

  9. Trev says

    I was trying to determine whether by placing a 1/2 cts or full cts whether the WB in camera is set to tungsten or to manually change kelvins to either 3800 or 2900 depending on which one is in need.

    Jubar,

    Manual change since the tungsten setting in camera is for a full tungsten around 2700-2800K, so with half around 3600-3800K, depending on how the image looks after first shot.

    Just easier to stick to manual WB in Kelvin personally.

  10. Jubar Alom says

    Manual change since the tungsten setting in camera is for a full tungsten around 2700-2800K, so with half around 3600-3800K, depending on how the image looks after first shot.

    Just easier to stick to manual WB in Kelvin personally.

    Comment by Trev — March 28, 2013 @ 12:25 am

    Thank you Trev. Much appreciated.

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