Bouncing and long lenses

When shooting an event, you would usually use a somewhat wider lens (a 35mm, say, or a 24-70) and bounce the flash behind you, upward – you have read this here many times.

But when you take candid shots with a longer lens, behind you does not always work: to get the righ angle of attach of the light to your subject, you have to bounce forward. I have mentioned this here too, but let me illustrate with an example.

Straight on is not good: hard shadows and “deer in the headlight” eyes. Even when combined with lots of ambient light to minimize this effect, it’s still not great:

But sometimes, bouncing behind is just too far. When you are far away, 45 degrees up but forward is better – but the problem is that some of the light goes straight to the subject:

See the hard shadow under the chin, in the picture above? Especially if there is a wall behind the subject this will be unacceptable.

So then you block the direct path with a bit of a flag (your hand right in front, or a reflector with the black side used to eat up the forward light – so it sticks jus a little above the flash head. You now get this:

So.. when you take flash pictures, just as in yesterday’s lesson: remember where the light goes!



What if there’s no wall?

I keep recommending that when you use TTL flash, you bounce it off walls or ceilings.

So what if there is no wall or ceiling?

Then you do the following.

  1. Ensure you expose the background well, with high ISO, open aperture, and slow shutter as needed.
  2. You may be able to bounce after all, when your ISO is high and aperture is open. Flash can reach farther than you think! So – try.
  3. You can move the subjects! Ask them to “move over here for a second” – near a wall. Every venue has some wall or other, or perhaps a low ceiling in one part of the room. No reason you cannot ask people to move!
  4. If that fails, bounce of “anything”, using a Fong lightsphere. Not creative light, so this is not your first choice, but it can save your behind.
  5. And if all else fails – direct flash, but perhaps still modified by a bounce card (or even a Fong thing aimed forward). And do not forget flash compensation.

So you see, there are always options.


You know this.

But I want to show you again – and emphasize it once more:

Flash needs to be bounced.

I shall illustrate with three snaps of a kind volunteer in last Sunday’s camera course that I taught in Oakville.

Snap one shows that aiming your flash straight at your victim ought to be a federal offense. (The young lady was warned and kindly agreed to be pictured this way, with a 580EX II flash straight into her face, using TTL, but knowing there would be better snaps to follow):

Not that she doesn’t look great, but the photographic qualities leave much to be desired.

  • Shadows under her ears;
  • And under her chin, a hard shadow;
  • “Deer in the headlights” look;
  • Skin looks reflective;
  • Face is flat;
  • Background is dark;
  • The catch light is in the centre of the pupil.

So then I turn the flash up at a 45 degree upward angle right behind me. That way the light comes from 45 above in front, from her perspective, and this is typical beauty lighting:

This is still using TTL, so all I had to do was to turn the flash behind me, and bang. A portrait instead of a snapshot. All the problems solved in one go!

You could also turn the flash to the right or left, so she gets light from the side, above:

Now the face is more three-dimensional and sculpted.

I would normally use more straight-on lighting (pic 2) for women and more side lighting (pic 3) for men (because the latter tends to show “character”, which can be a euphemism for “age”).

Either way, though: avoid flash on camera aimed at your subject. This is why your pop-up flash is evil, and why my 1D and 1Ds bodies do not have one.

And with modern TTL flashes and cameras, you do not need to do anything other than “turn the flash head”.