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Bounce Flash Lighting Techniques Any Photographer Can Do

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If you’ve ever taken a portrait with an on-camera flash you’ve undoubtedly experienced the “deer in the headlights” effect.

The problem with using a flash lighting source directly pointed at your subject is that it produces a harsh, unnatural and unattractive look to your photographs. Most photos, especially portraits look better with soft light.

Fortunately, there are ways to get a professional look to your photos and still use a flash.

It’s as simple as adding an inexpensive flash unit to your camera that tilts and swivels. This device will allow you to take advantage of the bounce flash photography lighting techniques outlined below and help you take your flash photography photos to a higher level of quality!

Why Bounce a Flash?

When you first purchase a flash unit for your camera you may wonder why it was constructed to tilt and swivel.

The answer is simple.

Through experimentation photographers learned years ago that you can bounce the light of a flash off of nearby walls in order to produce softer and more appealing lighting to a portrait.

When a flash is bounced off of a wall it comes towards your subject in a diffused way. This results in less hot spots on your subject.

Just imagine the many photos you’ve seen with shiny light reflecting off a person’s forehead, chin or nose. Those are hot spots produced by hard photography lighting.

A bounced light also avoids harsh shadows because the light becomes bigger than your subject. And, you don’t have to worry about the red eye effect on your subject’s pupils because the lighting is not coming directly toward the person.

Now that you know some reason why you should bounce a flash here are some popular techniques for your to use.

Popular Bounce Flash Techniques

Bounce Flash Off the Ceiling

Bouncing a flash off the ceiling is the most common approach.

Lighting a photograph in this way provides a very soft, diffused lighting scheme that spreads out evenly onto your subjects from above.

The ceiling acts as a huge reflector for the flash.

To use this technique tilt your flash unit toward the ceiling (between 75-90 degree angle).

The only negative side effect of this technique is that you may see some shadows below the eyes since all of the lighting is coming from above. However, many professional portraits are shot with this lighting technique. If you are unhappy with the results you may want to consider using the reverse ceiling bounce described below.

The Reverse Ceiling Bounce

The reverse ceiling bounce is a great technique to use if you have a wall and ceiling behind you when taking the photo.

By tilting the flash unit at a 45 degree angle backwards, you can bounce the light of the flash off of these two flat surfaces.

This results in a softer and more diffused light than just bouncing the flash off the ceiling alone.

It also reduces the shadows that can result under the eyes as mentioned previously because some lighting is bouncing off the back wall helping to fill those in.

The only negative aspect with this technique is that you must have a wall behind you. If you don’t have one, you’ll have to stick with bouncing the flash off the ceiling or using the side wall bounce described below.

The Side Wall Bounce

The side wall bounce is another technique you should consider when using a flash unit as your light source.

With this technique you swivel the flash 90 degrees sideways and bounce it off of the nearest wall.

Again, you get a large, soft, diffused light source hitting your subject, and because it is directional you also get great depth and character.

Instead of creating shadows under the eyes as with the ceiling bounce or having an overall well lit photo as with the reverse ceiling bounce, the side wall bounce creates beautiful light on one side of your subject as it falls off into shadow on the opposite side.

However, if you can’t find a wall to bounce your flash off of try the person bounce technique below to achieve a similar effect.

Bounce Flash Off a Person

If you can’t find a wall or ceiling to bounce your flash off of don’t worry! We have another technique for lighting your photograph.

This trick is especially good when photographing outdoors.

If you can find someone nearby that is wearing a white t-shirt you can have that person stand near your subject. Then, swivel your flash unit so that it is pointed towards that person and bounce the flash off of their shirt as if it was a wall. Just make sure the person wearing the t-shirt closes their eyes or use the back of their shirt. They’ll thank you for saving their eyes!

We hope you enjoyed these bounce flash techniques and look forward to hearing how you have used them in your own photo shoots. Leave a comment below sharing your experiences with these tips!

6 Comments

  1. […] below and help you take your flash photography photos to a higher level of quality! … More: Bounce Flash Techniques Any Photographer Can Do … ← The Photography Course You Want | No BS Photo […]

  2. The Coolest Photography Links of the Past Week

    September 3, 2012 at 12:25 am

    […] tutorials are always well produced, creating informative pieces that are really enjoyable to view.Bounce Flash Techniques Any Photographer Can Do – this is a great primer on using bounce flash techniques for portrait photography.  All the […]

  3. […] For more tips on using an off-camera flash check out our article on Flash Photography 101 and Bounce Flash Photography Tips any Photographer Can Do. […]

  4. […] You’ll be able to bounce the light off of anything you choose and control how much light you want to place on your subject. Check out our related article on Bounce Flash Photography Techniques Any Photography Can Do. […]

  5. Salvatore Vergone

    May 28, 2013 at 11:54 am

    I’m a 65 y.o. old Italian man student photographer and as an amateur I own Nikon D800 with 24-70 f2.8 lens. I need lots help hopeful find all here.

  6. […] You can then bounce the light off of it from the side and this will naturally illuminate and complement the model. You can experiment with different soft box effects with this method by moving the light source closer and further away. For  more information, check out our other article Bounce Flash Techniques Any Photographer Can Do. […]

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