How To Use A Bounce Flash, Part One: The Basics

INTRODUCTION:

Are you getting the most out of your bounce flash?  Or does it sit unused in your bag because you’re just not comfortable with it yet?  Using a bounce flash correctly can really take your photography up to the next level.  The bounce flash is a great tool for overcoming challenging lighting situations and can also add great depth and life-like three-dimensionality to your images.  Let’s consider this blog a reboot on getting to know your bounce flash.  With a little practice and discipline, you’ll be so comfortable using your bounce flash that you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.

What do I mean by “bounce flash”?  The bounce flash is that flash with the swivel head that you mount on top of your camera in the camera’s flash hot shoe. The bounce flash is probably more commonly known as a speedlight, a flash gun, or just a flash, and technically it can be used either pointed directly at your subject or bounced off of a surface.  Here are links to pictures of the CANON 580 EX II and NIKON SB-900, for example.

There are many brands, models, and sizes of bounce flash, but whether you shoot Canon, Nikon, or whatever, the “rules” for how to use the bounce flash are the same. If you’re unfamiliar with how to use the settings I describe on your particular flash, please consult your user manual.

WHEN TO USE A BOUNCE FLASH:

Use a bounce flash anytime you need extra light on your subject and when you want to create a nice side-lit portrait lighting on your subject. You can certainly use the bounce flash indoors or outdoors, but the most common time to use the bounce flash is when shooting indoors in low light situations.

SETTINGS:

I’m a big believer in changing as few settings as possible from moment to moment when on a shoot. As you become more familiar with using the bounce flash, you’ll probably arrive at your own preferred camera and flash settings, but allow me to suggest a good place to start.

Keep your camera in MANUAL MODE.
Set your ISO to 400.
Set your shutter speed to 1/30th.
Set your aperture to f/2.8. (If you don’t own a lens that can open up to at least f/2.8, I strongly suggest renting one for any event where you’ll be shooting in low light.)

I recommend using your flash in MANUAL MODE as well. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using the flash in TTL MODE, which is basically an auto mode in which the flash decides how much light to shoot out, but manual mode, in my experience, uses much less battery power and keeps you the photographer in control of how much light your flash is putting out.

As you shoot, the only setting you should change (until you get more comfortable with the whole process) is the flash power. Whether you’re in manual or auto/TTL mode, you can increase or decrease the flash power using either the +/- buttons or dial on your particular flash. When you turn your flash power up and down, the power changes usually in 1/3 stop increments. In TTL mode, the flash power will be represented as something like 0.0 or +0.3, or -0.7, or +1.3, depending on how much you’re turning the flash power up or down. In Manual mode, the flash power is represented in a fraction like 1/1 for full power, or 1/32, or 1/16 +0.3, or 1/8 +0.7.

The other “setting,” for lack of a better word, that you’ll be changing on your flash as you shoot is the position of the flash head. Depending on your flash model, the flash head can swivel back and forth and up and down.

BOUNCING:

The flash is called a bounce flash because you can, and should, bounce its light off of things so the light will fall in a flattering way on your subject. You want your light to fall on your subject from the side, like a nice portrait studio light.

As you move around whatever space you’re shooting in, look for surfaces where you can bounce the light. You can bounce light off of walls, ceilings, windows, even other people. Be creative. Like a fellow photographer once told me, think of it as playing billiards, or pool, with the light.

You can bounce light off of virtually anything, but you have to think about how far away the bounce surface is from you AND your subject. Think about it: the light has to travel from you to the bounce surface and then back to your subject. So don’t be afraid to turn your flash power up to get a good strong pulse of light from your flash. I think by far the most common error inexperienced flash users make is not using enough flash power in larger spaces. If you’re shooting in a big room, don’t be shy. Turn it up!

NOTE:  If you bounce your light off of a surface that has a distinct color, say a wall that’s orange or green, that color may very likely appear as a color cast in the light on your subject.  That color cast might be easily fixed in post-production, but it’s definitely an important thing to be aware of.

THINK AHEAD & PREPARE:

As you’re moving around a room, see the picture you want before you take it. Plan ahead. As you get in position, turn the flash head toward your bounce surface. Dial in your flash power setting. Be ready to shoot when you arrive at your subject.

CONCLUSION:

Using bounce flash can be challenging, and like almost everything in photography, there’s a learning curve. Stick with it. Above all, be disciplined. Don’t abandon your techniques and start pointing that flash directly at your subject! Learn from your mistakes. Learn from your successes. You can do it. Good luck and happy shooting!  Below are a few examples of shots I took using bounce flash on the same settings and using the same techniques described above.  Enjoy!

Tutorial, Bounce Flash, Speedlight, How to, Josh Lamkin

— Josh Lamkin, PWD Editor

Photos courtesy of Josh Lamkin Photography

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Comments

  1. Deep Achtani says:

    Nice article! especially as I just got the bounce flash and I have to use it for a project in 4 hours………..

  2. Ammar,

    very interesting and informative article, I have been using Canon speedlight 430ii for nearly 4 months, all what has been side above is true and it can rally make the dramatic change !

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  1. […] INTRODUCTION: Are you getting the most out of your bounce flash?  Or does it sit unused in your bag because you're just not comfortable with it yet?  Using a bounce flash correctly can really take your photography up to the next level.  The bounce flash is a great tool for overcoming challenging lighting situations and can also add great depth and life-like three-dimensionality to your images.  Let's consider this blog a reboot on getting to know … Read More […]