Author Topic: "Bounce Flash," Photography Assignment for 23 May - 12 June 2011  (Read 1232 times)


  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1407
Last month Marilyn mentioned that she had "photography challenges coming up this summer:"  She said:

-- the first is an Alaskan cruise that we're doing in May/early June -- would welcome any advice.  And the second is our writing project summer institute in a room with white walls, florescent lights and water bottles and junk always strewn across tables - the lighting is horrible, I don't want to be intrusive and yet we are always wanting pictures for the website, fun slide shows or writing assignments, etc.  I'm not sure what kids of assignments would address those challenges but would appreciate any suggestions......."

In response I wrote:

Probably the one thing that would help the most for your writing project images would be to use an external flash and bracket.  Learning to bounce the flash off the ceiling will provide the single best improvement of any images taken under those lighting conditions.  (Fluorescent lighting can be really nasty, and the best way to deal with it is often to "overpower" the fluorescents with a decent power bounced flash.)  I've always been amazed at how little attention people will pay to a bounced flash.  Direct flash can be distracting, but for some reason people don't even seem to notice a flash when it is bounced off the ceiling.  A flash with a built-in "bounce card" (Canon calls it a "catchlight panel") works very well for providing a nice bounced light with a small amount of direct light to fill in the eye shadows and provide catchlight.  The 580EX II has the "catchlight panel," but this is an expensive option.  A less expensive option might be something like the 430 EX II with the Lumiquest Quik Bounce  As an option, you could also bounce the flash off a white wall behind you to provide a large diffused light source.

Now that I think about it, "Bounce Flash" might be a good topic for an upcoming assignment?  (But it would require that you have an external flash to use.  You could buy a much less expensive Chinese flash like this:; however, I'm starting to lean towards recommending that people save their money and buy equipment made by their camera manufacturers, it's less hassle, and less expensive in the long run (i.e., you don't waste money buying something that you will eventually want to replace with "the real deal").  Or you could borrow Clay's 580 EX.  )

I filed that discussion away, thinking that we needed to do a "bounce flash" assignment sometime before the summer...

So, one of our three concurrent assignments for the weeks of 23 May - 12 June 2011 is "Bounce Flash."  I thought is would be useful to show a few examples.  The first is a shot in challenging lighting conditions like Marilyn is likely to encounter.  (Rebecca was kind enough to put up with me taking a few quick shots while she worked at her desk.)  The first is an "available light" shot without flash.  This was shot in the evening.  Rebecca's desk area is lit by an overhead compact fluorescent bulb and an incandescent desk lamp.  This type of mixed lighting is a challenge for the camera's white balance system, and will typically result in uneven color casts across the scene.  Even bumping up to ISO 800 (the highest ISO that produces reasonable results on the D3100), I was still shooting with a shutter speed of 1/10s, which is much too slow to effectively hand-hold a camera and get sharp images.  (Granted, I didn't try too hard, since this was just an example of how not to handle the scene. :) )

No flash, ISO 800, f5.6, 1/10 sec (D3100)

Using the pop-up flash on the D3100 results in a much better rendition; however, it can also produce harsh shadows and uneven light across the scene, often with near objects being overexposed and far subjects being underexposed.  Even if you get the exposure right on your primary subject, direct flash can still produce unflattering "hot spots" on you subject's skin (like the areas on the top of Rebecca's cheeks and chin.)

Pop-up flash, ISO 400, f8, 1/60 sec (D3100)

The best way to handle this situation is with a flash bounced off the ceiling.  Because the beam of light from the flash is spread wide by the time it is reflected from the ceiling, the reflected light behaves like a very large, diffused light source.  This large light source provides much more even light across the scene and much softer shadow transitions that help convey the three dimensional forms of our subjects (in a more flattering manner).  Ideally we would use an external speedlight like the Canon 580EX or Nikon SB-900 for bounce flash, but as we discussed above, that can be a fairly expensive solution.  There is a way to bounce flash using the built-in pop-up flash using an "accessory."  Evan is demonstrating how to do this in the shot below:

Evan demonstrating the use of a small mirror to bounce pop-up flash off ceiling
(Bounce with SB-800 speedlight on D3, ISO 800, f8, 1/60 sec)

Evan is holding a small (about 4x6 inches) inexpensive mirror designed to clip on a car visor as a reflector to direct the light from the pop-up flash towards the ceiling.  You can find an inexpensive mirror like this in places like Walmart, or for the reasonable price of $1.93 from  It's important to note that because of the limited power of the pop-up flash, you will probably need to bump your ISO up to 400, or even ISO 800 in order to ensure your flash has enough power to travel all the way to the ceiling, be diffused by the surface of the ceiling, and then travel the distance back to your subject.  Many modern camera systems also base the flash exposure on the focus distance to the subject, so you might also need to use positive flash exposure compensation in order to force the flash to provide enough light on the subject.  So, if you don't have (or can't borrow) an external flash that allows you to direct the light towards the ceiling, then using a small mirror can produce similar results (at slightly higher ISOs).  It's a little awkward, but as Evan is demonstrating, it is certainly "doable," and as an added benefit the mirror is a lot lighter and more compact (and much less expensive!) than an external flash. :)  Here's an example of bounce flash using this technique:

Bounce, pop-up flash with small mirror to bounce off ceiling
(ISO 400, f4.5 (starting to go a little soft) 1/60, (D3100))

If you don't have a white ceiling to bounce the flash off of, a white wall (in front of or beside the subject) or even a white poster board will do as a substitute.  I'd love to see some of you experiment with bounced flash from the front and sides as well as from the ceiling.

One of the three concurrent topics for the period between 23 May and 12 June 2011 is "Bounce Flash."  Please upload your images into the "Bounce Flash" Album in the Weekly Assignments gallery no-later-than midnight Mountain time on Sunday, 12 June 2011.  I'll look forward to seeing your images.

« Last Edit: May 21, 2011, 01:52:23 PM by keithsnell »