Friday, February 26, 2010

Flagging your light - all bounce

First let me preface this by saying I'm not certainly not the first to come up with this technique. Most of this is application of things I've learned from Neil van Niekerk's site, specifically here. He's got some of the best resources for on-camera flash.

When photographing events, I commonly run into the same problem, a group of people are talking and I'm stuck behind them. Taking a photo with a typically white card give me problems; there is still direct flash or high intensity bounce (off of the white card) going straight forward. Because light follows the inverse square law the light hitting the closest person back of the head is that much more powerful than my subject's face. Here take a look at this example.

For this photo I have my flash pointing straight up with a white card between me and the flash head. If I would have tilted the flash forward, the effect would have been more pronounced as there would have been even more direct path from the flash tube to the back of the head. there is still bounce getting to my subject, but it's lost with the direct light.

The trick is to flag off the direct light, so only bounce is available.

Here's another look at the result:

Other photographers may laugh at you because everything they've learned says "white card on the back, 45 degree bounce" but the light quality speaks for itself. Thanks Niel for all the pointers!


  1. Terrific article. Well done diagrams and a helpful technique perfectly explained.

  2. Hi
    very good idea, thanks for the scheme.

  3. Works great with white or light colored surfaces . What if the bounce surface is a strong color such as red? Use an umbrella or soft box or color correct on PS? Thanks for the post.

  4. Tom, this is as much an art and feel as you go as it is a science. If you're getting color cast off of a wall, you just have to compensate. Gel according to what your final outcome will be after bouncing. Sometimes it's just a matter of getting as close as possible and what feels right. In my opinion, not everything has to be color corrected to complete neutral, some environments look a lot more pleasing when warm especially if we're used to seeing it that way.

    I photographed an event last night that had brown ceilings in one spot, red in another, wall paper with yellow stripes on half the walls, and mirrors to boot throwing light every which way. It's never going to be studio quality light, but who's going to want that in that type of venue. I'm just confident that I'll be able to do it better than others.

  5. very nice! thanks for sharing.

  6. Thanks for sharing your experience. And nice work on the diagrams!

  7. What do you use to flag off the direct light? Is it the white card or a business card or black foam? BTW...thanks for the great illustrations - really helped.

  8. Tony, That's the beauty of it, it doesn't matter matter. I usually use some foam as I can wrap it around the side too. I've used a note card, a rigid piece of plastic, and even my hand. Last night I found myself without any foam at a friend's birthday party and used some cardboard I ripped off of a box....almost anything works, just don't spend a lot of money on something,