Bounce flash photography 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.
Bounce flash technique
Where did the light from the bounce flag come from? From behind me, because that is how I get the best light from my on-camera flash.
To recap quickly: for wedding receptions, I most often rely on
– one on-camera flash that I bounce,
– high-ISO capable cameras like the Nikon D3s / D4, and
– the receptions using up-lighthing.
With up-lighting like this, I don’t feel the need to use additional lighting – as in this example where the background would’ve been dark without the additional light. I mostly rely just on-camera bounce flash. And if done properly, it can look pretty awesome … for minimal effort. In the example at the top, I did use the local adjustment tool in Lightroom, to lift the exposure on the couple by 0.5 stops. Just a quick sweep of the local correction brush to sweeten the image.
As mentioned in that linked article, using on-camera bounce flash, I bounce my flash into the direction where I want it to come from. By creating that “big softbox effect”. The light wasn’t bounced off a wall near me. The light was bounced into a huge room. I am relying then on a wide-ish aperture and a high ISO to allow enough of that “big” light to register in the photograph. *That* is where the light came from – the rest of the room.
With this, it becomes important to dispel the idea that you have to have a specific wall or ceiling to bounce your flash off. And it is especially important to get rid of the notion that you have to bounce your flash forward at a 60 degree angle with the white card out. It usually doesn’t make for the best light from your on-camera flash.
An important aspect here, is how the inverse square law helps us when we bounce flash behind us.
A side-note about bouncing flash like this: Quite often when I take a candid portrait of a couple at a table, the guy will call me back and tell me my flash didn’t go off … because at 1600 ISO (and higher) and a wide-ish aperture, and the use of the Black Foamie Thing … it barely registered as a blip of light on the ceiling behind us. Then I will quietly show the couple the photo – well-exposed with awesome light – and walk away feeling superior when they look surprised. The light really can look very good.
I normally use a 1/2 CTS gel on my flash as default when shooting indoor wedding receptions. (I sometimes go to a full CTS.) For this image, I had the gels still on my speedlights, but later on when the activity subsided, I did a few tests and saw that the gels weren’t needed. There wasn’t any orange-hued incandescent lighting that needed to be corrected for. The colored up-lighting dominated the background.
Camera settings & photo gear used (or equivalents)
- 1/160 @ f/3.5 @ 2000 ISO
- Nikon D4
- Nikon 24-70mm f2.8G AF-S / Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II
- Nikon SB-910 Speedlight / Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite
- Nikon SD-9 battery pack / Canon CP-E4 battery pack
- a BFT (black foamie thing)
Black Foamie Thing and the Spinlight 360
For this image (and the reception), I used black foamie thing to flag my flash. The main reason why I started to use the BFT way back, was to flag my flash for portraits with on-camera flash. But there is one other advantage of using the BFT, (which sits underneath your speedlight, NOT on top) – it blocks the light of your flash from blitzing people in the face when they stand close to you. This is important enough when you are standing close to the mother of the bride or someone you truly need to love you as a photographer. ie, it really reduces the annoyance factor of bare bounced flash.
With the reception, I predominantly only shoot horizontal photos, and mostly with one camera only, which has the 24-70 .. then I revert to the much lighter and smaller BFT. (I only shoot vertical with the speeches and some of the dances.) So I didn’t really need the easy rotating head of the Spinlight 360 here, like I would with controlled portraits. So the Black Foamie Thing did fine. I always have the ultra-compact foldable black foamie thing(s) in my basic camera bag. So that’s what I used.
By the way, I’ve had people tell me that the BFT looks too home-made, and they have had clients frown and question it. So they happily made the switch to the Spinlight because it looks like a professionally manufactured device, and not some rag-tag thing on top of the flash. A very valid point.
So it really comes down to what is handy and what is most practical .. and whether the Spinlight is really necessary right there. But when I have to switch between horizontal / vertical, then the Spinlight is cool. Ultimately, I wouldn’t get too hung up on the specific device … it really is all about the direction of light.
Bounce flash – just do it!
That’s about as much of an explanation I can give about this light. If you’re amazed and wonder where the light came from, then just try it yourself. Bounce your flash behind you, over your shoulder, into the room … and see what comes back. And if I could paraphrase that guy from the Men’s Warehouse advert, “You’re going to like the way the bounced flash looks; I guarantee it.”
- Using high ISO and flash at the wedding reception
- Bouncing on-camera flash in manual mode
- Bounce flash examples – wedding receptions
- Photographing the wedding processional
- Flash photography during the wedding ceremony in church
- More articles on wedding photography
- Juana & Steve – wedding – Rockleigh Country Club, NJ
On-camera flash modifier – the black foamie thing
The BFT is held in position by two hair bands (Amazon), and the BFT is usually placed on the under-side of the flash-head.
The linked articles will give clearer instruction, especially the video clip on using the black foamie thing.
Video tutorials to help you with flash photography
If you like learning by seeing best, then these video tutorials will help you with understanding flash photography techniques and concepts. While not quite hands-on, this is as close as we can get to personal instruction. Check out these and other video tutorials and online photography workshops.