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Taking the “Flash Look” Out of Your Flash Photos By Henry’s Photo

Posted by uniqueminds on March 19, 2008

Taking the “Flash Look” Out of Your Flash Photos

Using flash has always been a necessary part of our photographic lives – especially when it comes to taking candid, hand-held photos at dimly lit indoor events such as birthday parties, wedding receptions, award ceremonies, etc… Many of us are driven to take these photos out of necessity rather than as an opportunity to create inspiring works of art. Why? Part of the reason lies in the fact that most pictures taken with flash are just simply unspectacular. Light from direct flash is harsh, unnatural looking and many times unflattering. Pale faces, hard shadows, overexposed foregrounds, dark backgrounds (and of course the dreaded red eye effect) are the ingredients for the typical picture taken with flash. Although the need for flash is still a reality when it comes to this type of photography, there are a few tools, tips and techniques we can use to get these pictures to look nicer and a little less flash-like.

flashFirst and foremost, you need to get yourself a camera that can work with a separate, external flash. SLR (single-lens-reflex) cameras and some higher-end compact cameras generally fall into this category. Next, get yourself a flash that is dedicated to your camera and whose head can tilt up & down and swivel side to side. In addition to offering more power than a built-in flash, this kind of external flash allows you bounce light off a low ceiling or wall before it reaches your subject. Now, why would you want to bounce light off a ceiling or wall? The main benefit lies in the ‘softening’ of the light. Light that is bounced off a large reflective surface or passed through a large piece of translucent material takes on a softer quality – a quality whose highlights and shadows are not quite as intense. It’s a light that’s closer to a natural ambient light – which is usually more flattering on people’s faces. Oh, and by the way… that red eye effect… you won’t see any more of that too.

To use the bounce flash technique, simply tilt or swivel the head of your flash towards the ceiling or a nearby wall at an angle of about 45 degrees (plus or minus a few degrees should not make a huge difference). Once you’ve got your subject and flash lined up correctly, just take a picture. Provided you have a modern TTL flash system, your camera and flash will work together automatically, giving you an instant, accurate exposure. Having said this, there are still a few points to keep in mind when using the bounce flash technique:

  1. Every flash has its own distance limit. Because you’ll now be sending light indirectly towards your subject, you’ll want to be a little closer. Low ceilings work well, cathedral ceilings don’t;
  2. Make sure the colour of the wall or ceiling is something close to a neutral white. Other colours ( blue, green, red, etc… ) can produce an unwanted overall colour cast in your photo.

What if there’s no wall or ceiling to take advantage of? In these scenarios, many photographers will attach a small reflector onto the head of their flash. This accessory allows photographers to once again angle their flash upwards to reduce the harsh light and strong shadows produced by direct flash. Although this kind of reflector doesn’t soften light to the same degree, it can still produce a better result than direct flash.


Direct Flash

Bounced Flash
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