Bounce Flash Photography

As a lover of light, bounce flash photography is so much fun.  In this guest article by Kevin Deskins, you are going to read all about the technique. Kevin is extremely knowledgable in lighting, as you will learn.  I hope you enjoy the article as much as I do!

Bounce Flash Photography Concepts

I’ve been having a blast writing for my blog Spekular. I’ve encountered many readers who are happy to see a no-nonsense, easy-to-read blog. Along the way I’ve “met” fellow bloggers too, and some have even invited me to write some guest articles. I was really excited when I received an email from Scott asking me to write a guest article on bounce flash for the Scott Wyden Imagery blog. I had already worked with him through the company I work for, LumoPro. He asked if I could touch on bounce flash. At first I was a little uncomfortable doing it because, honestly, nothing really sits on my camera’s hot shoe except for a PocketWizard. Most of the work I do is off camera. I shook off the feeling of being uncomfortable and switched gears to make this a fun challenge. With some rough ideas I had already jotted down, I had developed a concept that would work-I just had to lay out some lighting diagrams. Today I’m going to discuss an easy studio set up to create a classic portrait lighting style, and how to do it with a flash on camera.

I had a concept in mind that had been sitting on a Post-It next to my desk for some time. I wanted to create an “American Working Man” themed portrait in black and white but with a different lighting approach. Most of the portraits I had seen that involved a similar subject had really harsh lighting to bring the grit out in the subject. I wanted to approach it with soft light and with a style that is often seen in fashion ads: butterfly lighting.

Scott had mentioned using a bounce flash photography approach. I really wanted a challenge, so I started with a concept that included two strip lights created from Small Rogue Flash Benders and diffusion panels to highlight each side of the subjects face and to add some interesting catchlights in the eyes. Next I was going to have an on-camera flash pointed straight up bouncing into a white reflector angled down onto the subject. The reflector would act as an artificial ceiling/mainlight/semi-sortof-pseudo softbox.

I find it important to sketch out ideas before a shoot. It’s like a roadmap so that I don’t look like a complete buffoon for having to tinker with my lights for half the session. It may not be the final layout, but it’s a concept, an idea to get me started. With my sketch in hand I sought out the hardest working person I knew, and somebody who I had never photographed: My dad. With almost 25 years in the concrete business he’s laid the foundation for a lot of the metro area I am from. He’s never complained about lacing up his boots and is always proud of the dirt on his hands. I admire that. I wanted to capture both his hard work, but at the same time approach this lighting in a unique way: introducing soft light with a subject that isn’t normally lit that way.

I’m not going to lie: this shoot  was really hard technically speaking. When I started shooting the test shots, my concept quickly started to fall apart. The strip lights that I had set up wasn’t working out like I thought it would. I was expecting really interesting catch lights in his eyes and an soft specular highlights effect on the sides of his face. Not necessarily rim lighting, but something more unique in relation to the subject matter. I started to question if bouncing the main light to create butterfly lighting was a good idea. Here’s an initial test shot close up of his eyes to get an idea of where my frustration was coming from:

bounce flash photography

This was not at all what I was aiming for. There was too much light hitting his eyes, and the catch light wasn’t as interesting as I thought it would be. On top of all that, all the lighting was just too “studio” for my taste. Then it hit me: mix hard light with softlight. If I angled the reflector (my artificial ceiling I bouncing my flash off of) at a different angle, and raised it, I would eliminate some of the catchlight (my first problem). Then, by removing the modifiers from the side flashes and place them behind him, I could get harder light with no modifier. Here’s the idea I was originally working with:


I took a few test shots to be sure that my brain, the photons of my flash, and my camera were on the same page. Believe it or not, I was really surprised by the final result. I created a portrait that wasn’t in my original concept but captured exactly what I wanted. Here is the final result of what I got that day:


I had captured the American Working Man. The on-camera flash bounced onto a reflector and created a nice butterfly style lighting pattern that isn’t normally used in a portrait like this. At the same time, I used bare LP160s to add a hard rim light each edge of his face, creating the feeling of toughness. Here’s how the final layout was arranged:


I learned a lot from this shoot. First, I learned not to be intimidated by bounce flash photography. For a long time I’ve been uncomfortable with bounce flash because I’ve shot off-camera flash for so long. I feel restricted when my flash is on camera, but as long as I understand the light direction and how to aim it properly, I can arrange for the shoot with concept in hand.

Second is that I should never fear improvisation. If your shoot starts to fall apart, don’t be afraid to deviate from the original plan. You might find the photos will turn out better than you had in mind.

I am definitely planning to continue this American Working Man series with other subjects with the same lighting set up that I have showed you above to spotlight (no pun intended) the American Laborer.

I want to take the time to thank Scott for having me write a guest article on his blog. It’s an honor being a rookie blogger and being invited to write for such an awesome site. I look forward on continuing this series and working more with bounce flash to replicate the effect from this shoot.

Kevin Deskins is the Product Manager at LumoPro and lighting blogger at Spekular.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. awesome awesome awesome post. Exactly the info I have been scouring the net for. I am a lifestyle children’s photographer and dont have the luxury of setting up static lighting as my subjects are always on the go. I have been working on perfecting my bounce technique to allow for good result in sub-optimal indoor lighting conditions … all while not being glued to one spot. Thanks loads!

  2. Firts: thank you for the tips, they are useful for amator photographers who want to become better :)
    Second: As photographers we shouldn’t be afraid to improvise once in in while. I have in mind at least 2-3 projects were improvisation saved my ass :P

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