Hey, I understand. You don’t have any fancy camera gear. All you have is a camera and a flash. You stick the flash on top of the camera and that’s your lighting setup. Wait, you don’t even have a flash? You do have a camera, right? OK, good. But no flash. Well I guess you can shoot with just sunlight. Or just go buy a flash already! It will instantly make your pictures better, and will allow you to start doing some creative stuff with lighting. And no, the pop-up flash on top of your camera doesn’t count…you can’t aim it anywhere but right at your subject. Yuck. I am talking about a speedlight that mounts on the hotshoe on top of your camera.
Bouncing flash is one of the most basic techniques you can use. It is the quickest and easiest way to make a small flash act like a big light source, provided there is something to bounce it off of. How “soft” a light looks depends on the relative size of the light source in relation to the subject (wrote a little more about softness here). So that tiny flash on top of your camera puts out hard light, but when you bounce it off a big white wall it becomes a much bigger light source, and gives much softer light. How big depends on how close the flash is to the surface you’re using to bounce.
Light spreads out as it travels (unless you’re shooting with a ”LASER”). So let’s take a big white wall that’s off to your right side for example. Move in close and bounce the flash off it, and the light makes a three foot square impression on the wall. Move a few feet away and now the light makes a six foot square impression on the wall. The wall becomes the light source that is illuminating your subject, so the further you are from the wall, the bigger the impression on the wall, and the softer the light bouncing off it becomes. Of course, the further you move from the wall, the less powerful your light becomes. There is always a trade off between power and distance…so to overcome this, just increase the power of the flash.
This works with the flash you just bought and stuck on your camera just as well as it does with the fancy off-camera stuff that I am using. Hey, it’s the exact same flash! And if instead of a wall, you bounce the flash off say, a white garbage truck, you will get the images above and below. You can bounce off the ceiling, a wall, a big tent at an outdoor wedding, a truck, a door, a building, anything that is flat and white will work. Light picks up the color of the surfaces it bounces off of, so don’t use a green wall to bounce unless you want your subject to look like a Martian. And dark surfaces absorb light (that’s why they are dark!) so they don’t make good bounce surfaces either.
So bouncing light is a simple technique you can use in all types of situations. You don’t need much equipment, and your pictures will have some soft directional light that you have control over! (As usual, click on the pictures for the technical details.)
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