Taking a good photograph using an external flash can sometimes feel like starting to learn photography all over again, so it’s no surprise that many photographers feel intimidated by it (myself included). While using an external flash is straightforward – slide the thing on the camera, power it up and shoot – the results of the most basic use are usually disappointing, especially on people. It’s been compared to shining a flashlight directly in someone’s face, with all the unappealing qualities that that direct, harsh and unflattering quality of light brings. There are times when direct flash is fine, but generally speaking if the light can be redirected to a large surface, the resulting diffusion is more pleasing to the eye.
Assignment Four was another project involving a specific series of tasks – photograph someone using an external flash in various configurations: direct, bounced off the ceiling, bounced off a back wall and bounced off the floor. In my often-task-oriented brain I zeroed in on the tasks themselves with little thought about the aesthetics. So it took several attempts (and a patient dad) before I completed the assignment with photographs that were more than just test shots.
Although not a “bad” photo, the light is a bit harsh and unforgiving.
If I’m using flash, this is how I usually have the head aimed, so I feel fairly comfortable with it. Though bouncing the light off the ceiling spreads the light out, illumination is also from the top down, which can create undesirable shadows under the eyes. The typical remedy for this is to use a little white card attached to the flash head to throw some of the light forward. Doing this usually provides a bit of a catch light in the subject’s eyes, but can also throw a noticeable shadow behind the person if he’s standing close to a wall.
Back Wall Bounce
This configuration was new to me, and now I’m not sure why I never tried it before. It probably can’t be used as often as the ceiling bounce, but is preferable given a choice between the two. With the flash aimed backward, the back wall becomes a giant front light source on the subject, which doesn’t create problems with under eye shadows.
Side Wall Bounce
Bouncing light to the side wasn’t on the list of things to try, but it also has an appealing result. With light being more directional, it gives the sense the table lamp is contributing to much of the overall illumination.
This one was definitely new to me and something I’ve never thought of doing. The sample shows the effect, but obviously it’s inappropriate for the subject. My instructor had a good suggestion about making the flash a supplemental light source, turning it into a bottom fill light or reflector. That is something I definitely want to try.
My biggest take away from the assignment is that I need to be more adventurous with where to bounce the light. Side wall and back wall bounces produced the most appealing results in this session, two configurations I never used before.