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|| News Item: Posted 2011-04-08

On and Off-Camera Flash Basics Part 3 of 4

By James Madelin

Photo by

1) Leaning my model against the black sign board, I’ve just got my flash firing straight at him from the hotshoe on top of the camera.
Photo by

2) Note that I’m shooting with my left eye, keeping my right eye open. If you shoot press photography or anywhere busy, work on this technique until you can do it… it pays to have an eye on what’s going on around you as well as one in your viewfinder.
Photo by

3) And this is the result:
Photo by

4) First up, direct off-camera flash:
Photo by

5) Here’s the bounce setup:
Photo by

6) I should probably get rid of that distracting little door next to the model’s right arm. But this is all about the light. You get it I’m sure.
Using flash effectively and learning about lighting is often the “final frontier” in a photographer’s journey to mastering photography.

This is part three in a four part series on using your detachable SLR flash creatively. Part one covered flash to ambient ratios ( Part two covered “shutter drag”(

You should now be having a lot more fun with your flash. You’ll have quite a few disasters, but if you’ve stuck at it, you should also have had some great “Ah HA!” moments. If you use your camera and flash to make money, you should be much more confident about your ability to get a broader range of photos in any situation.

This article introduces bounce flash, which is a technique to turn your tiny flash into a huge, soft, gorgeous light source. Without having to spend time and money on a huge, soft gorgeous light source.

Because your flashgun is such a small yet powerful light, you’ve probably noticed those horrible, hard-edged shadows you always get in your photos. They’re distracting at the best of times, and can only work if you’re photographing someone spectacularly handsome or beautiful. That just doesn’t happen that often to most of us, right? It’s probably another reason you don’t use your flash much.

Bounce flash depends on pointing your flash at a nearby surface so that when its light bounces back onto your subject, it becomes a much larger light source. Before we get into it, here are some things you need to consider:

- Is there a nearby surface, like a wall or ceiling, to bounce off ?
- Is it light coloured ? Is it neutral in colour ? If I bounce my flash off it, will the light come back green or red or worse ?
- When the light bounces back onto my subject, what direction will it be coming from relative to my subject ?

Like many things in photography, don’t worry about memorising this or think you need to hold it in your mind to get it right… Practice will do that for you.

As you might have gathered, in a lot of situations, if the answer to the first question above is NO, there’s not generally a lot you can do. Unless you happen to have a surface with you, like a large white handkerchief, a book or something. That’s right, you can make the surface yourself. But if your pockets are empty and there are no nearby surfaces, bouncing isn’t going to work.

So here goes, let’s dive into it. I need to get a shot of a young model. It’s got to be good…. he knows I’m a photographer. But as I look around, all I see is a messy town centre. And all my lighting gear is in the car; I’ve just got my camera and my flash. Time to bounce.

I spy a light, neutral coloured wall on what looks like a folly (yes, this is the UK, it’s not uncommon to find follies in town centers). Conveniently, there’s a black signboard right next to it. Here’s a shot of what direct flash would look like. (See picture #1)

Not only does the light look horrible, you’ll notice that the black board is a lot more reflective than I thought, giving me an annoying and distracting mirror image. So I do two things… first up reframe to lose the reflection and second aim my flash head away from my subject at the light coloured wall. That will bounce the flash’s light back at him, but with a lot more chance to spread, the light will come back onto my subject casting a much softer, less harsh, less distracting light. (See picture #2)

And this is the result: (See picture #3)

Note how soft the light is. Also that the cream coloured wall has warmed it up beautifully. There’s room for improvement in post processing of course, but this is fine straight out of the camera; maybe slightly better framing and a tiny touch of colour balancing to lessen a little bit of that warmth could be an option. But with no accessories, on camera flash and less than two minutes to shoot in a town I’d never been to before ? Bouncing can save your bacon.

With the bit between my teeth, I figured I’d try an off-camera bounce. Getting your flash off-camera is something I’m going to cover more next time, but here goes a bounce/ off-camera combo shot: (See pictures #4, #5 and #6)

Are you going to find the same combination of walls ? Nope, so grab your camera, flash and a friend and go and have some fun experimenting bouncing.

You can bounce off the ceiling, but it’s hard to get it right without finding that your subject(s) eye sockets darken a lot. With ceiling bounce, you’re often left with soft light, but it comes down onto your subject, which often doesn’t look right. But it’s all in the practice. So get to work trying this out and having some fun!

Next time… off camera flash tricks. Don’t forget, let me know what you think of the series so far and suggest anything I’m missing, or that you’d like to see (link below).

Links, resources and cool lighting sites:
- to let me know what you think of this series, and tell me what you’d like me to cover

James Madelin is a professional photographer and lighting workshop tutor based in Australia. He is the inventor of the orbis™ speedlight ringlight: http://www.orbisflash.coml. You can see his work at his Sports Shooter member page:

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