Bounce flash photography with wooden ceilings
When photographing wedding receptions, I would ideally like to get away with just one on-camera flash that I bounce off surfaces behind me. A venue with (close to) white ceilings and walls are just perfect. Super easy. Even with really high ceilings, I try to make it work. Here for example, I used a single bare on-camera flash to light up the entire place — Wedding reception lighting with one flash. No diffuser cup or white bounce card. Bare flash with the Black Foamie Thing. But occasionally I reach the dead-end of a venue with black ceilings and walls. Then I have to resort to additional off-camera flashes, and use a diffuser cup or bounce card on my flash. Not my first choice for flattering light from my on-camera flash … but these are the limitations we hit occasionally. Another situation that is a real challenge, is when the venue has wooden ceilings … but I still try to see if I can get away with using an on-camera bounce flash. And often enough it works.
The photo above is of the groom lifting his niece up into the air while they were dancing. Yes, I bounced flash off that wooden ceiling to get that soft light o them. There was also an off-camera flash behind them to help create a bit of depth to the scene. The off-camera flash was gelled with a 1/2 CTS gel to make it less blue compared to the main light. The on-camera bounce flash is very warm in color because of the wood. In post-processing the RAW file, the WB was around 2600 K, with the Magenta turned down a fair amount too.
But that wooden ceiling does eat up a lot of light. We are operating near the limits of what we can easily get away with. I was mostly using full power manual flash with a Profoto A1 @ f/3.2 @ 3200 ISO. Really squeaking in the proper flash exposure there. I am saying “mostly” because it definitely depended on which direction I bounced the flash in, and how close I was to one of those walls. Sometimes I had to turn the flash power down by 2 stops for correct exposure. It became easier to dial in the (approximate) correct flash exposure as I started to mentally map where I am standing on the dance floor, and how I was turning towards my subjects.
Do check out this Tutorial: Bounce flash photography
My point is – while it is real trouble bouncing off wooden walls in barns etc, it isn’t entirely impossible. I always give it a try first and see if I can make it work first, before going for more complex multi-flash lighting setups.
Camera settings & photo gear used
- 1/100 @ f/3.2 @ 3200 ISO
- Sony A9 (B&H / Amazon)
- Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 GM (B&H / Amazon)
- on-camera flash: Profoto A1x flash for Sony (B&H / Amazon)
- background light: Profoto A1x flash for Nikon (B&H / Amazon)
That flash behind them really helps in avoiding a background that goes too murky. In this next photo of the band leader, you can see the flash on the nightstand. It was at a low power setting: 6 stops under full power.
On-Camera Flash Photography – revised edition
This book is explains a cohesive and thorough approach to getting the best from your on-camera speedlight.
Particular care was taken to present it all with a logical flow that will help any photographer attain a better understanding of flash photography.
You can either purchase a copy via Amazon USA and Amazon UK, or can be ordered through Barnes & Nobles and other bookstores. The book is also available on the Apple iBook Store, as well as Amazon Kindle. Also check out the Amazon Kindle store.
Learn more about how the cover image was shot.
With the wedding ceremony, I used flash with the processional. No additional flash behind them. Just the on-camera bounce flash with the black foamie thing that helps control how the light spills. It also helps in avoiding blinding people behind me.
Materials for the flash modifier used – 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.
- Black Foamie Thing
- Tutorial: Bounce flash photography
- Bounce flash photography and dark ceilings
- Event photography in low light
- Wedding reception lighting with one flash
- What if there is nothing to bounce your flash off?
2 Comments, Add Your Own
1Valent Lau says
Great to see the BFT still in use! I remember when I first read about it so many years ago. It was a gamechanger.
Winding my business down so I have time to read your blog again. The first time I read about the Black Foamie Thing I almost fell on the floor laughing ? Neil you are a delight and I’ve learned so much from you. Happy New Year!