Improve your portrait photography: Lighting with bounce flash
For a straight-forward but effective portrait like this, there are just a few things that have to come together … all within your control as the photographer:
- Framing / Composition
This is mostly as simple as looking at the edges of the frame in your camera’s viewfinder, and then deciding how much head-room or breathing room you want to allow. Also look at the background, and exclude what doesn’t add to your photograph. In this example, it was easy enough, working in my studio which has a grey wall.
So often though, I find that aspiring photographers that I teach at my workshops, haven’t developed the ability yet to look at the way they frame the subject, and look at the edges of the frame in their viewfinder. They either shoot too tight, or way too loose, or with a lop-sided composition as they center their subject in the frame. It just needs a little bit of practice.
- Posing / Expression
My subject here, Claudia, is a professional model who was our subject at the flash photography workshop held in my studio. She certainly knows to pose – however, she doesn’t know how the photographer is going to frame her. So it is still up to us to tell her how we are framing her. It doesn’t help if her hands and arms are out of the frame if she thinks we are shooting half-length compositions. So even with a professional model, you, as the photographer, still need to guide and pose your subject. Here are more articles discussing the topic of posing.
Here we come to the essential part that I wanted to discuss here – the lighting. In this example, the lighting is clean and open, with a slight gradient across her one cheek. That gives a more dynamic lighting pattern than flat lighting would have.
If this look appeals to you, then I have good news for you – it is within your reach. You too can easily have your portraits look as good as this!
The lighting is simplicity itself – on-camera bounce flash. This was shot indoors without much available light – my studio. Which is why I can’t really show a pull-back shot on the lighting – there isn’t anything else other than the speedlight on my camera.
If you are shooting indoors, and using your speedlight on your camera, the the simplest approach is invariably the best way to use the flash. This is discussed at length in my book, On-Camera Flash Photography, as well as the Craftsy video tutorial on flash photography.
There are two of the most important tips I can give you on getting the most of your on-camera flash when you use it indoors:
- Get rid of any light modifiers. No plastic cup. No Fong Dong. No flash-benders. No white flip-card. Nothing. Not even a black foamie thing. Just the flash. If you’re not convinced, then please watch this video clip: Best light modifiers for on-camera flash.
- Bounce your flash into the direction that you want the light to come from. Not towards your subject, but in the direction that you want the light to come from. (Mind if I repeat that again? NOT towards your subject.) Here I bounced the flash over my left shoulder because I wanted the light to come in from the direction best suited to how her hair is parted. In other words, I didn’t want the light to come from the direction where her fringe on her left-hand side, would block much of the light.
An elegant portrait need not be difficult in execution. Don’t get overwhelmed. A step-by-step control over the elements, and a straight-forward approach, is often the key to success here.
The next step though in expanding your repertoire, would be lighting with off-camera flash. If you’re new to off-camera flash, and unsure of what gear you’d need, here is the gear list – starting out with off-camera flash.
Photo gear (or equivalents) used during this photo shoot
- Camera settings for the photo: 1/125 @ f/4 @ 800 ISO
- Nikon D4
- Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S VR II /equivalent Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II
- Nikon SB-910 Speedlight /equivalent Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite
- More articles on posing.
- review: Best light modifiers for on-camera flash
- Bounce flash photography – Short lighting
- Tutorial: Bounce flash photography
- Bouncing your flash
- Bounce flash & white balance settings
- What if there is nothing to bounce your flash off?
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.