Use Bounce Flash for Nicer Photos: A Little Flash Used Indirectly Can Make for Better Photos

Use Bounce Flash for Nicer Photos: A Little Flash Used Indirectly Can Make for Better Photos 

"Bouncing" the light does several things to improve the quality of light in a photograph.

  • It causes the light to travel farther, spreading out in a wide pattern. This effectively makes the light source bigger, which helps make the light softer and more flattering.
  • It causes the light to reflect off of other surfaces lighting the subject from multiple directions and filling in shadows.
  • It helps reduce the likelihood of redeye, which is caused from light from a direct flash reflecting off the subject's eyes and bouncing back into the camera lens

bounce flash photography

Bounce Basics

In order to bounce flash it's necessary to either have a flash with a bounce or bounce/swivel head or the ability to use the flash off camera. The most basic way of bouncing flash is to tilt the flash head up so it fires its light up at the ceiling and then bounces off it and falls on the subject.

It's important to make sure the surface the light is bouncing off is white, otherwise the light from the flash will pick up the color from the surface and throw a color cast over the subject.

If the entire scene is affected by the color cast it's possible to correct by setting a custom white balance or by correcting for the color cast in an image editing program such as Adobe Photoshop.

Stay Close to the Subject

One drawback to bouncing the light from a portable flash unit is that because it has to travel a greater distance, the power of the light diminishes.

This means the flash has to work harder to produce enough light to expose for smaller lens openings. It also means the photographer has to take care to stay close enough to the subject to keep the light effective.

Depending on the power of the flash unit being used, the photographer may be limited to larger lens openings at any distance beyond five or 10 feet.

Bounce in Almost Any Direction

Flash can also be bounced off of side walls or even off walls that are behind the photographer so long as the light doesn't have to travel too far.

In each case the light produced by bouncing the flash will generally be superior to light from direct flash even though the power of the flash is diminished.

Be careful not to bounce the light off the floor because then the reflected light will be lighting the subject from below creating a type of lighting known as "ghoul" lighting (it was the lighting used for the old black and white monster movies).

Bounce lighting is so effective even studio photographers will frequently use it with powerful studio lights since it produces such a soft, even lighting.