Flash photography tips: bounce flash techniques
Of course, simply taking the flash off-camera doesn’t stop the lighting from looking harsh and artificial – it still needs enlarging and softening.
There are several ways of doing this, and one of the most effective is to bounce the flash. This is easy if your flashgun allows you to tilt the head upwards (usually through click-stops at 45°, 60°, 75° and 90°) and swivel it around the horizontal axis.
The idea is that you bounce the flash off a reflector, wall, ceiling or even a mirror – spreading the light out over a much larger area and effectively increasing the size of the light source.
This lightens dark shadows and produces softer, smoother and more natural lighting than direct flash. For the best results, tilt the flash head up to at least 60°. The downside is that subjects can look somewhat flat and lack that ‘sparkle’.
Bounce flash photography can also produce unwanted shadows underneath a subject, which in the case of a portrait accentuates eye bags and creates shadows under the nose and chin. It also significantly reduces flash power, which typically translates to a light loss of two to three stops.
As long as the flash sensor’s still pointed towards the subject a TTL flashgun will automatically amplify its output to compensate for this, but if it can’t meet the new requirements you must increase your aperture, boost your ISO and/or move in closer to your subject.
If you’re using a manual flashgun you’ll need to increase your exposure accordingly.
Another important consideration when bouncing flash is that the surface you bounce off must be a neutral white, otherwise your subject will end up with an unnatural colour cast.
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Flash photography tips: white bounce cards
Better flashguns have a white bounce card built into the flash head to reflect some light directly onto the subject when the unit is tilted up into a bounce position.
Bounce cards are a great way to add a vibrant catchlight to a subject’s eyes and to fill-in any resulting shadows – for the most effective results, tilt the flash head up to 90°.
Some advanced flashguns feature dual flashtubes instead – firing a weaker burst directly at the subject to fill in shadows and add a catchlight while the main flash is bounced upwards.
If your flashgun doesn’t feature a bounce card or dual flashtube, try using a rubber band to secure a piece of white card around the back of the flash head to reflect some light forward.
Conventional bounce flash won’t always be practical – you might be working outdoors. And if you’re indoors the ceiling/walls might be too distant or the wrong colour.
One solution is to buy a mini flash reflector that clips around the flash tube and bounces the light forwards, softening it with minimum loss of light. Try LumiQuest’s Big Bounce, Pocket Bouncer or Midi Bouncer – available with different coloured metallic inserts.
If your flashgun is a non-tilt model, taking it off-camera will allow you to bounce the flash in any direction. An off-camera flashgun can also be reversed, attached to a studio brolly stand and fired into a flash brolly, thereby turning it into a respectable studio light.
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