On-Camera Flash: Intern Edition

posted on: April 28, 2009

I don't know about you, but I definitely have a love-hate relationship with my speedlight. I'll use it if I have to, but most of the time I'll go to extreme lengths to avoid pulling it out of my camera bag. Probably 90% of the time it makes a better paperweight than it does a piece of camera equipment.

Anne showed me a nifty trick last week that will tip the scales more toward the "love" part of the equation. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I'll post a few by way of demonstration. You definitely have to see it to appreciate it (that, plus the fact that I don't really feel like writing a 3,000 word blog entry. I'm sure you appreciate THAT, too.

Just to preface this, I was shooting at f/4.5 at 1/50s (manual mode). My speedlight was set to E-TTL, with no light modifiers on it.

Exhibit A: Neo (yes, named after the Matrix. No, don't ask me why, it's been like 5 years and I have no flippin' clue anymore) relaxing on an unseasonably warm spring evening. The flash is on-camera, pointed straight at him. The verdict? EW. Ew ew ew. Nasty shadows, cold, harsh light...just...ick. We can do better.

Exhibit B: Neo, looking much healthier than before. The flash is still on camera, but is now pointed straight up at the (white) ceiling. Ah, my optic nerves can relax a little bit. This is MUCH better than what we had before. The shadows have softened, and the light is much warmer and more flattering. Well...as flattering as it can be to a stuffed dog. I'm not such a fan of the shadow under his chin, though...that wouldn't look good on a person either. You can imagine that you would get the same kind of shadows under a person's eyes, since the ceiling has essentially become your light source. I think most people are tired enough as it is without us accentuating that lovely raccoon-eye look.

Exhibit C: Success! Here's where Anne's trick comes in: the flash is still on-camera, and I'm still bouncing the light, but I've pointed it behind me and over my shoulder. There is a white wall about 7 feet behind me, and now that is pretty much acting as a giant softbox. Look at that light! Soft, even, no harsh shadows...extremely flattering. If anything, this might be a little TOO even, but that is much easier to correct in post processing than super contrasty light and terrible under-eye shadows.

So, there you have it! And remember: fear not the flash, grasshopper. At least, that's what Anne tells me.

19 comments, to add [click here]:

  1. great. thanks for the tip. but what of I don't have a white wall behind me? do I use a diffusor on my flash than?

  2. Love it! Thanks so much for the tips. :)

  3. Anonymous12:50 PM

    great demonstration!

  4. Woohoo! Yay for bouncing your flash! I've started doing all of my portrait and boudoir sessions in my studio apartment because the walls and ceiling are all painted a glossy white. My whole apartment is a giant softbox! Also, I highly recommend the Flip It, for those occasions when you really need flash, you really don't have a nice white wall, and you really need your clients to not look like they were caught in a truck's high-beams! It's a must-have accessory for me when I'm shooting in a less-controlled circumstance than my own apartment. :)

  5. Anonymous4:11 PM

    Great demo! What do you do if you are not in a room with enclosed walls?

  6. really great tip! Great job :)

  7. thank you Alexis!, great tip, and coming from Anne.....well, what more could I ask for?, I guess you are sort of our dear "spy" for us...lol.
    Really appreciate your input from somebody I truly admire. Thank you for your blogs, I enjoy them.

  8. loved this post Alexis (or is it Alexa??:) Just wondering if you were + or - on the exposure on your speedlight? Thanks.

  9. Thank you so much! I tried it yesterday and it worked!! :)

  10. Thank you for the great tip! I will eagerly try this out!!

  11. I discovered this tip on DWF. As for the guy who mentioned what if the room does not have enclosed walls try and make a bounce card. I did after seeing the first video on www.abetterbouncecard.com
    Cost me around 50 pence in GB Sterling to make this.
    BTW, I never use TTL, but take a few test shots in Manual until I get the desired effect.

  12. Anonymous5:13 PM

    This is a VERY helpful blog & it's very appreciated :) I hope more tips are coming soon :D
    i love your inspiring work!

  13. Hi Anne!! I miss you tons. Where are you? Can't wait to read more from you :)

  14. Nice demonstration of controlling the flash when used on camera.

    I'm with you on this one Alexis - reflector, tripod and or off camera flashguns are the way to go IMHO :-)

  15. fantastic tip. I too seldom pull the flash out and it shows but this is a great solution. I love that idea -- sure it would work much like a softbox esp if that wall behind the shooter is white or off white.

  16. Anonymous12:36 AM

    Sorry guys, but I'm going to have to call this as I see it - bounce/diffusion is basic knowledge. If you're shooting weddings and don't know this technique, you need to stop shooting weddings and go to a David Ziser workship. Don't just learn the tricks of the trade - learn the trade! If they're not teaching this in photography school, you're not getting your money's worth.

    Also, if you're in a room that doesn't have white ceilings or has high ceilings, this won't work and you may have to pull out your on-flash diffuser (Gary Fong, Sto-fen, Funky Foam) or your flash EV and play around.

  17. Anonymous10:54 AM

    "Ann's trick"? This bounce technique is already well known for years.


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