Direct flash is harsh and unflattering. And off-camera flash can be expensive and difficult to set up. But, there is a way to get some of the looks of an off-camera flash without actually taking the flash off-camera: bounce flash.
Instead of taking the flash off the top of the camera, bounce flash re-directs the light to bounce off an object and back to the subject. The result is soft, dimensional light without the complexity of taking the flash off-camera.
And unlike direct flash, no horrible harsh shadows either.
Bounce flash is a great technique for those just starting to use a flash — but there are a few essentials to understand before trying bounce flash.
Here are seven bounce flash tips for beginners, whether you’re a wedding photographer photographing wedding receptions or doing portrait photography.
What Type of Flash Can You Use for the Bounce Technique
Pop-up flashes can’t be used for the bounce technique (excluding some bounce cards) because those built-in flashes are fixed to digital cameras.
To use bounce flash, you’ll need a hot shoe flash with an adjustable head. Most hot shoe flashes allow you to move the head to redirect the light. Some will have a wider range of motion than others.
Make sure the flash in your kit has an adjustable head.
Look for a Large, Neutral Colored Surface
Bounce flash requires something to bounce the flash off of. Usually, this surface already exists. A wall or ceiling bounce surface works great. You don’t have to bring any extra gear with you. Look for a surface that’s large to create a nice, soft light.
Flash photography is harsh because the size of the flash head is small. By directing that light into a large wall or ceiling, you easily increase the surface size of that light. This creates softer, more flattering light.
Just turn the flash head until the light is pointing directly at that surface.
The bounce flash will appear to be coming from the direction of the object that you bounce the light off of. You can’t pick up that wall and move it. But you can often adjust the placement of the subject to get the light falling in a way that flatters them.
For a portrait, for example, try bouncing the light at a 90-degree angle or a 45-degree angle from the side of the subject.
There’s more to a great bounce surface than just size, however. The color of the bounce surface will leave a color cast on the subject. If you bounce the flash off a red wall, the light will have a pink tint to it.
Unless you want that colored tint, look for a neutral colored wall or ceiling, like white or beige.