Take Better Flash Photos by Diffusing the Light from Your Flashgun
Ever since I bought my first SLR, I have experimented with bounced flash and various other methods of lighting but “bouncing” the flash was one of my first experiments.
I think I read about it in a Photography Magazine in the early 1980’s and went out and bought a Vivitar flashgun with zoom, swivel and bounce facilities.
It was great! In those days of non re-chargeable batteries, I think I got through quite a few alkalines.
Bounced flash could be described as “defused light flash photography” and takes some getting used to but when you get it right, the results are great.
The diffused light has a much more pleasing effect on your subject. Of course, nowadays, the flashguns are so much more user-friendly but you still need to know a few things.
Firstly, as you are re-directing the light away from the subject, you will need either more flash power, or a wider aperture.
Bounced Flash – Why is that?
Well, assuming you are using a dedicated or automatic flashgun, and without getting TOO technical, all of the sensors in your camera and flashgun work together. So, your camera will tell the flashgun how far away your subject is and supply the required amount of light. (For example, the subject is 3 metres away).
But! If this light is bounced from say, the ceiling, you have just extended the distance from flash to subject to around 5-6 metres, meaning not enough light will hit the subject and the picture will be UNDEREXPOSED!
How can I correct this?
Actually there are a few ways:
- Open the aperture – By opening the aperture on the lens a couple of stops, you are letting more light into the camera, thereby compensating for the lack of bounced flash light hitting the subject. A longer shutter speed will not work, all that will do is to lighten up the background NOT the subject. Remember, the aperture controls the AMOUNT of light let in and the shutter speed controls HOW LONG it is let in for.
- Increase the FEC+/- (Flash Exposure Compensation) – If you know where this is on your camera, up the FEC+/- by about 2 stops. What this actually does is trick the camera into thinking it has the correct setting, when you have actually made the flash unit think it needs to give more power. By giving more power and light, again, this should compensate for the lack of bounced flash power otherwise.
- Switch Flash to Manual – This is a little more tricky as the flash will normally just give you full power, and you are in danger of OVEREXPOSING the subject. You will need to close the aperture more to compensate for the extra power and light coming from the flash unit. It is also more time consuming as you need to use the guides to work out the “distance of subject” to “aperture setting” ratio.
Bounced Flash doesn’t just have to be bounced from the ceiling (Although this is quite effective and quick). You can bounce the flash from a bright wall, a white sheet or even a piece of hand held card.
Can I see some examples?
You don’t need a complicated set up in order to achieve a studio look. For this shot of Sonia and Dillon, I simply used one bounced Flash and available light. This particular flash gun has 2 flashes. The main on top which can be tilted and swivelled, and a smaller, fixed flash which is used as a fill-in flash.
For this next example of my Son’s Toys, each toy had to be photographed quickly and I had no time to set up the studio. I simply placed each toy on a white card, bounced the flash directly upwards from the ceiling (As I was pretty close), took a few test shots to get the correct aperture, and repeated for each toy once I had the correct exposure. You can see the toys are evenly lit and the shadows are nicely diffused.
Set me a task please!
Ok, as a practice, try one the following;
(Best with digital as not to waste film!) – Ask a friend or family member to act as a model. Attach your flashgun to the camera, turn it on and set it to auto. Tilt the flash-head upwards at an angle of about 45° (or even straight up if they are not far away!) between you and the subject.
Set the shutter speed on your camera to 60th/sec and the aperture to f.11. Take one photo. Then open the aperture one stop and take another photo from the same position. Repeat this until you reach f.4 and then go through the photos to see which gives the best results.
Now, set the shutter to 60th/sec again and the aperture to f.8. This time take a series of photos still using bounced flash, but adjust the FEC+/- (If you have it on your camera) from -2 up to +2 taking one photograph at each stop. Again, review the pictures and see which one works the best.
This time, set the camera on a tripod (If you have one) and set the aperture to whatever gave the best results in the first task. Again, set the flash to auto (and bounced flash) and turn off any room lights. Set the shutter speed to the fastest flash synch speed (normally 200th/sec). Take a photo.
Now take a series of photographs whilst slowing the shutter speed for each shot until you get to about a 2 second exposure. What you will see when you review, is that the subject should stay reasonably well exposed, whilst the background gets lighter with each slower shutter speed.
This is a great tip if you are using bounced flash and need background detail. Also, the faster the shutter speed, the blacker the background becomes which could also be a desired effect.
If you practice long enough with these, you will eventually “just know” what settings the camera and flash need for each occasion. Very handy at weddings etc where you don’t have the time to practice!
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