photography techniques…
why you might want to be using bounce flash

over the weekend i photographed a pretty cool event in downtown washington dc. as usual, the ambient lighting in the room was about as horrible as i could have hoped for… spotlight only video lights, huge tall ceilings that were really dark wood, and many shots were from a distance so 200mm was necessary. there were many notables in attendance… VP of AP, Secretary of the Dept. of Labor, Bill Curtis, and many others.

anyway. the point of this post is to demonstrate how incredibly useful bouncing your flash off of just about any wall or ceiling (including dark wood grain) can be… even in the very worst of situations. yes, high ISO capabilities of the d3s really allow for some amazing results in low light conditions, but i believe it’s always a good idea to know how take control of your lighting in any situation… especially for those times when you’re shooting in gigantic dark rooms. here are a few examples of ambient vs. bounce flash photos.

storyboard 1flashbounce (4 of 5)flashbounce (5 of 5)so, you can probably tell which are ambient and which are bounced. the bounced show an unreal amount of soft light, nice & smooth skin tones, and an overall better quality of light (IMO). the technicals of bouncing a flash are a bit more complicated than i care to get into on this post, but check out strobist.com for virtually everything you need to know about lighting.

oh, and here’s one last image i feel really demonstrates the power and look achievable with bounce flash in the absolute worst lighting conditions imaginable. keep in mind this is with the flash bounced off of an incredibly high dark woodgrain ceiling in a room with no real useable ambient light, and zoomed to 200mm f/2.8. the legendary Helen Thomas:
1 2011 NPC Inaugural of Mark Hamrick 2765 Edit blogsharpened

About Sam Hurd

Sam is a professional wedding and editorial photographer based in the Washington DC area. He photographs 40+ weddings a year, press events, commercial portraiture, and regularly hosts workshops in his Baltimore MD studio and around the world. His work has been published internationally including the Wall Street Journal, the NYTimes, and the Washington Post. He's available for commissions worldwide.

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  1. Yes that’s great, you can relly tell the difference between ambient and bounce flash.

    What were you managing to bounce the flash off in these photographs?

    Thanks for the interesting post.

  2. Really nice images, which show clearly the advantage of being able to bounce flash, and manage light, effectively.

  3. Nice examples!!

  4. Good examples and you’re right indeed, but it’s also a matter of style. I like to use ambient in many situations, just because it fits my style of shooting better.

  5. Great examples, I love me some bounce flash!

  6. true about the style… however i think it’s ultra important for ambient light only shooters to still at least know how to use a flash in as many useful ways as possible :) i find it best to be prepared to handle any lighting situation, and if i’m in an indoor space that won’t let me shoot at iso lower than 12,800 (even at f/1.4), and with no way to control the circumstances of what’s going on with the subjects, then im definitely going to use a flash to get the best images possible i can for my clients.

    of course…i too prefer to use the ambient light 90% of the time if i’m able to!

  7. You cant beat a bit of fill flash, but theres a time and a place for everything I guess

  8. Yep – right on. I love bounce flash and how many different types of light you can create by just choosing how far and in which direction you throw the light. Great write-up, Sam!

  9. Great examples Sam. It’s easy to tell the bounced light shots and they look a LOT better. If you’re bouncing off the ceiling where you using any kind of bounce card to get some forward fill as well or were you bouncing up and back at an angle?

  10. joshua, not using any bounce card. when i first started i tried the ‘ole 90 degree straight up with a bounce card, but i hated the flat and very direct light. now, i almost always shoot bouncing up and back at an angle. eventually, i’ll try a more detailed write up about the actual process i use. i think one thing a lot of photographers don’t realize (even when bouncing from the appropriate angles) is that you can still shoot at really high ISO and open up a whole new world of opportunities.

  11. i still prefer natural light. even when flash is so well used. i just prefer the ‘feel’ of ambient light. pretty much always. nice job showing the differences though

  12. Very informative! Especially for those of us who are visual learners- thanks!

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