on-camera flash - photography by hertfordshire based studio owner Alex Saville.

on-camera flash | Part 2 | better results by bouncing flash

For part one of “On Camera Flash”

Read part one of “On camera flash”, where we start our exploration of using on-Camera flash, discussing the disadvantages of direct flash, and discussing bouncing flash off the ceiling.

Bouncing flash intelligently

So far, up till now, we’ve limited out use of the flash to positions in a straight line from forwards to backwards. But more advanced flashes allow us to angle the flash left to right. And more than that, they allow us to angle them left to right and up and down at the same time. So we’re going to explore some of these settings.

pointing the flash back 135 degrees, and 45 degrees up

What happens if we twist the on-camera flash to face the corner to the right and behind us?

What we see here is a real sense of depth. Look at the side of the figure’s face. It’s darker than the face is. Also, the face appears brighter than the bottom of the figure. Immediately, a visible improvement can be seen. You wouldn’t guess this image was taken using an on-camera flash – rather that is taken using natural light, coming from somewhere to the right, in front of the figure.

pointing the flash back 90 degrees (i.e. left or right), level

This is another popular choice for photographers who have discovered that they can point their flash left and right. It produces a lovely light, that resembles what you’d see if someone were being lit by a window. It really brings out the texture of any clothes they’re wearing. Make sure the choice of left or right works with the direction the subject is facing, or have them facing straight at you. Also, it can bring out texture in skin – which means that you might need to do a bit of post on any skin blemishes or wrinkles (“wisdom lines”). There doesn’t appear to be a great deal of difference between using bare flash, and snooted or with the gobo.

pointing the flash back 90 degrees, up 45 degrees

What we’re doing here is to create a bit more depth than to just point the flash to the left or the right. The flash will slightly concentrate the flash on the top parts of the subject – typically the face if someone’s standing or sitting upright. The light will taper off the further towards the bottom of the image it gets, though the effect may be only slight if the subject is small compared to the distance the light has to travel.

pointing the flash back 45 degrees, up 45 degrees

We’re now aiming the on-camera flash at a point parallel with the figure, to the right of it. Again, we might notice that our subject appears brighter towards the top of the image.

Bouncing flash to avoid something in the way of part of our shot

Sometimes, we don’t have control over the people around us. One of the things you’ll find at weddings and parties, is that people move in the way of other people. After all, it’s only natural. Often, you can make it work for you. But the big problem occurs when you try to light the person behind those people using any technique that relies purely on pointing the on-camera flash directly at, or directly away from the subject.

As you can see, this is where angling the on-camera flash to the left or right (depending on circumstances) can really help. Depending on where you you are bouncing your flash, you can also get workable results bouncing off the ceiling. Bear in mind though, that when bouncing off the ceiling, if you’re photographing a short person with a tall person in front, the top of the tall person’s head might end up lighter than the short person’s. By introducing the sideways angle, we’re getting shape, that “window light” or evening/morning effect and are far less likely to hit that problem.

On a related note, watch out for hats! A wide brimmed hat can cast a shadow when bouncing flash off the ceiling. In cases involving such headwear, if you can’t get rid of it before clicking the shutter, and can’t get them to move it, bouncing the on-camera flash off the ceiling could well be a problem. In such a situation, bouncing flash off the wall is advisable.

a few closing thoughts

so why the choice of modifiers?

Using bare flash is pretty much adequate for the job when bouncing flash. However, the makeshift neoprene gobo does have a significant advantage – it shields alot of the light from people who might find the flash irritating! So what about the snoot? That shields even more, right? Yes, but it does make it harder to control where it’s pointing – you’ve got to be pretty accurate with it. Also, if you’re bouncing off the wall behind you, it can get in the way of your head. And finally, there’s light loss to keep in mind – you’ll lose a stop or so with the snoot, and slightly less with the neoprene gobo.

Most of the time I use the neoprene gobo with on-camera flash – it’s alot less intrusive.

feel the fear, but do it anyway

If, like me, you started out being afraid of high ISOs – there’s nothing wrong with that. But they can get you great photos, so learn to conquer your fear. Admittedly with early digital cameras, they introduced alot of noise. However, you’ll find that it’s better to start off with a photo that’s properly exposed in camera than to tweak it in photoshop to correct it. And flooding a photo with direct flash does not make a great picture, no matter what your family tell you (that said, there are circumstances where any photo is better than none).

sometimes, you can’t beat the ambient light…

Sometimes, you can’t improve on the light that’s there already. If there’s window light, for example, why not use it, and turn the on-camera flash off.

… but sometimes, it beats you

Other times, you find that the walls are lurid red colours, there’s no-one with a white shirt, or there’s bright blue spotlights. As Joe Buissink would say, there’s always black and white.

recommended reading about on-camera bouncing flash

On-Camera Flash Techniques for Digital Wedding and Portrait Photography by Neil Van Niekirk.

master your on-camera flash, don’t be a slave

This is a guide to on-camera flash, but every situation will be different. Every room you photograph in will be different. And every group of people will be different. Just because pointing your flash one way works for one scenario, doesn’t mean it will work for every scenario. The more you get used to angling your on-camera flash in different directions, the more you’ll get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. The important thing is to practice using your flash the way it’s meant to be used, and not just do things a particular way because that’s what someone else told you to do.

do you find this blog useful?

We’ve used the method of bouncing flash to create some lovely photographs for our clients. By combining it with a simple piece of neoprene, it also means we aren’t firing flash into your eyes as much! To find out more about how we have your comfort in mind, subscribe to us and get your free e-book “Choosing And Working With A Wedding Photographer”. You’ll also qualify for a standing discount on all our services and products.

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