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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

5 Simple Bounce Flash Photography Tips

Bounce flash photography is the use of an external flash unit (also known as hot shoe-mounted flash) to reflect the appropriate amount of light onto your subject so that your shot appears bright and sharp.

The Speedlite has a rotatable head that can be adjusted to face a wall or ceiling. When the flash is triggered, light is reflected off those surfaces, which diffuses and softens the light from the Speedlite.

Bounce flash photography is extremely useful especially for indoor photography. Read on to learn the basics as well as some techniques to photograph portraits and accessories with hot shoe-mounted flashes such as Canon’s Speedlites. (Reported by: Teppei Kohno)

Bounce Flash Photography

Basics of bounce flash photography

Speedlite facing 90 degrees up,Speedlite facing 7 degrees down,Speedlite facing 90 degrees left,Speedlite facing 90 degrees right

A: Facing 90° upwards
B: Facing 7° downwards
C: Facing 90° left
D: Facing 90° right

The key to achieve good results in bounce photography is the bounce angle. The angles which you can adjust the flash head differs depending on the model of Speedlite being used. For the above Speedlite 600EX II-RT, the flash head can be positioned to face up, down, left or right. Varying the angles of the flash head will result in light illuminating the subject in different ways.

The Speedlite 470EX-AI features AI (Auto Intelligent Bounce), which automatically measures and sets the optimal bounce angle for natural results.

For other Speedlites, practice makes perfect. Try rotating the head of your Speedlite to change the angle of your bounce. Changing the angle which you position your Speedlite can change the final image greatly as well.

Ceiling flash- light bounce direction

Pointing the flash head towards the ceiling or a wall creates a softer light, which is especially effective indoors where ceilings and walls are present. This reduces the glare from the skin, hair, and clothing of your subject when taking photos of people.

 

Tip 1: To change how shadows appear, bounce light in a different direction

There are two ways to bounce flash:

  1. Ceiling bounce, where you shoot with the flash head facing the ceiling, and
  2. Wall bounce, where the flash faces sideways towards a wall

 

Speedlite turned to face ceiling
Speedlite turned to face wall
 

The main difference between both is in how the shadows appear.

When a ceiling bounce is performed, light comes from above. This results to shadows appearing below the subject, making the subject look flat.

Conversely, when a wall bounce is performed, light comes from one side and casts shadows on one side of the subject. This makes your subject look more three-dimensional.

Ceiling bounce flash example

Ceiling bounce

Wall bounce flash example

Wall bounce

 

Tip 2: Take note of the colour of the ceiling/wall you are bouncing light off

Bounce flash photography works well with white ceiling and walls.

White wall
 
brown door
 

If the bounce surface is coloured, your subject will end up having a colour cast. In the example above, when the light was reflected off the brown door, the entire photo became tinged in brown, and the original colour of the subject was not reproduced accurately.

 

With white bounce surface

When the bounce surface is white

With brown bounce surface

When the bounce surface is brown

(Same for both examples) EOS 760D/ EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM/ FL: 55mm (88mm equivalent)/ Manual exposure (f/5.6, 1/125 sec)/ ISO 100/ WB: Auto/ (Used in example: Speedlite 600EX II-RT)

 

Tip 3: The optimal distance from walls and ceilings is 1 to 2m

The optimal distance between the ceiling or wall and the Speedlite should be between 1 and 2 metres. Any further than 2 meters, it becomes harder for the light to reach the bounce surface, resulting in a weaker bounce effect. This produces an underexposed photo.  

Speedlite 1.6m away from ceiling
Speedlite 4m away from ceiling
 

In the example below, the distance to the ceiling was about 4m away. This is no different from directing the flash up to the sky at an outdoor location—note how the resulting photo is rather underexposed.

 

Shot with adequate ceiling bounce

1.6m from the ceiling

Shot 4m away, weak ceiling bounce (underexposed)

4m from the ceiling

(Same for both examples) EOS 760D/ EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM/ FL: 55mm (88mm equivalent)/ Manual exposure (f/5.6, 1/125 sec)/ ISO 100/ WB: Auto/ (Used in example: Speedlite 600EX II-RT)

 

Tip 4: Produce softer light through the use of a bounce adapter

Bounce adapter on a speedlite 

Bounce adapter
A bounce adapter is an accessory used to scatter light. When attached onto the flash head during bounce photography, it further softens the already soft light so that the light on the subject is more even. It can also soften or eliminate the shadows on the subject. The Speedlite 600EX II-RT and Speedlite 430EX III-RT models each come equipped with their own unique bounce adapters, and they may also be purchased separately. It is, however, incompatible with the Speedlite 270EX II.

 

Portrait with bounce adapter

With bounce adapter

Portrait without bounce adapter

Without bounce adapter

(Same for both examples) EOS 70D/ EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 55mm (88mm equivalent)/ Aperture-priority AE (f/4.5, 1/25 sec)/ ISO 800/ WB: Auto/ (Used in example: Speedlite 430EX III-RT)

Bounce adapters are particularly effective for scenes where the distance from the flash head to the bounce surface is short and strong shadows are easily produced. When an adapter is used, the shadows and skin tone of the subject look more natural. 

Shooting with a bounce adapter

 

Tip 5: To add life and sparkle into a subject’s eyes, use the catchlight panel

Catchlight panel location on a Speedlite

Catchlight panel
The catchlight panel is stored inside the flash head when not in use, and is pulled out from the front when you want to use it (as shown in the red box). The panel helps to reflect light into the eyes of your subjects when taking photos of people. The Speedlite 600EX II-RT and Speedlite 430EX III-RT come with one, but not the Speedlite 270EX II.

 

With catchlight panel,Light reflected in eye

With catchlight panel

No catchlight panel,Dull eyes

Without catchlight panel

(Same for both examples) EOS 70D/ EF-S18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM/ FL: 42mm (67mm equivalent)/ Aperture-priority AE (f/4.5, 1/8 sec)/ ISO 1600/ WB: Auto/ (Used in example: Speedlite 430EX III-RT)

 

Catchlight panel in action

Since using bounce photography for portraits usually means pointing the flash head towards the ceiling or a wall, it can be hard to get some catchlight in your subject’s eyes. In such cases, you will want to use a catchlight panel. As the panel can reflect light into your subject’s eyes, it can make your subject look livelier and is particularly useful for shots where facial expressions are depicted clearly, such as in chest-up shots. It is especially effective when the flash head is facing 90 degrees upwards—you may not obtain the same effect if the flash head is rotated left or right.

 

More keen than ever to get a Speedlite or upgrade your current one? Check out the following article for a comparison of Canon’s different Speedlites:
Which Canon Speedlite Flash to Choose?

For more detailed tutorials on portrait photography with bounce flash, head to:
[Part 1] Let’s Start Bounce Flash Photography
[Part 2] Bounce Flash Photography – Change Color Using White Balance Settings

For more tips, tutorials and reviews on Speedlites and external flash photography, go to:
In Focus: Speedlite
In Focus: The Basics of External Flash Photography

 


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Teppei Kohno

Born in Tokyo in 1976, Kohno graduated with a Social Work degree from the Department of Sociology of Meiji Gakuin University, and apprenticed with photographer Masato Terauchi. He contributed to the first issue of photography magazine PHaT PHOTO and became an independent photographer after that, in 2003. The author of many books, Kohno not only shoots all sorts of commercial photographs, but also writes prolifically for camera and other magazines.

http://fantastic-teppy.chips.jp

Teppei Kohno

Teppei Kohno

Born in Tokyo in 1976, Kohno graduated with a Social Work degree from the Department of Sociology of Meiji Gakuin University, and apprenticed with photographer Masato Terauchi. He contributed to the first issue of photography magazine PHaT PHOTO and became an independent photographer after that, in 2003. The author of many books, Kohno not only shoots all sorts of commercial photographs, but also writes prolifically for camera and other magazines.

http://fantastic-teppy.chips.jp