Cleaning up top heavy light: On-Camera bounce flash


I recently had the pleasure of working with Florence on a 60’s vintage style shoot in Southsea. Not only did we have the fantastic hair styling & make up work of Miriam King and authentic clothing supplied by Glamraggz but we were also kindly allowed to shoot in the unique retro-chic food and music establishment Pie & Vinyl.

I wanted to capture some candid looking shots of Florence sitting at one of the tables. The initial idea for this was to use ambient light only and, with Florence sat with her back to the main window, allow the background to nearly blow out to white. There were two reasons for this; one by blowing out the background the focus would be on Florence with minimal background clutter and two, I wanted to reduce any ‘modern’ influences on the image that may be partially in focus in the background (including a car parked behind).

After a quick couple of test exposures I ended up with the below image…


The image was ok. The styling and mood carried the shot and, at a push, may have made up for a couple of niggles that I had. However, I really wanted to improve on the lighting here. The light on Florence’s face was slightly uneven. The overhanging ceiling light in the cafe was providing the key light in this scenario and was quite top heavy, as shown by the shadowing on/under Florence’s eyes.

Camera settings were: ISO 1600, f/2.5, 1/100, no flash

How could improve it?….by ‘overwriting’ the ambient light with some carefully placed flash light. Shortly after taking the shot above the car in the background moved (I didn’t really like it in the original shot) so I took the opportunity and quickly grabbed my flash gun for some on-camera TTL bounce flash. To camera right (left of Florence) was a wall about 3 foot away which I bounced my flash off.

I needed to lower my ambient exposure so that Florence would be somewhat underexposed as I now wanted the flash to be the dominant light source. Using TTL flash I could quickly change any of my ISO, aperture or shutter speed to do this and the automatic function of TTL flash ‘should’ add the correct amount of additional flash light to bring Florence up to the correct exposure. I plumped for ISO and a slight tweak of shutter speed to make my settings ISO 800/ f/2.5, 1/125. I wanted to retain the shallow depth of field so left my aperture at f/2.5. This reduced ambient exposure by just over 1 stop. Lowering the ambient light by just over a stop also brought a bit of detail back to the retro styled lamp which adds to the context of the shot.

The most valuable advice I have learnt when using on-camera bounce flash is to direct the flash light in the direction you want the light to come from. The bounce surface then becomes a large light source to produce soft, flattering, directional light. Sometimes I even have the flash head pointing somewhat behind me.

As I mentioned above, the wall to camera right was used to bounce my flash….


In addition to directing my flash at the wall, I also flagged the flash using the black card on my Spinlight 360. This is to stop any direct light hitting Florence (even with the flash head turned at an angle). I want to control the direction of my light source.

With a slight turn of Florence’s head towards the direction of the bounced flash light, you can see a lovely soft graduation of light to shade on the right side of her face. Its soft, not ‘flashy’, and no longer top heavy. Its also directional, and therefore interesting, light.

Post processing on the shot involved a conversion to black & white, increasing the contrast a bit and a slight adjustment of the black slider in Lightroom. I also cloned out the web address window sticker to keep the authenticity of the shot.

Quite often a single shot from a shoot captures the mood and theme exactly as you imagine it beforehand. I was extremely happy to capture this one.


It always makes for a great ending….

Rather ironically, my first post is entitled ‘It always makes for a great ending….’.  Of course, what I mean by this is in reference to the Bride and Groom’s first dance on their wedding day.

As a photographer you can always bank on getting some genuine, natural Bride & Groom interaction; loving expressions and more often than not some laughs too.   Easy, we just need to be on hand to capture that, right?

Well, what can we generally expect at this point? Low light conditions, dark, often large venues, lots of incandescent lights, a moving subject and, quite frequently, an unpredictable light show from the DJ.    Not as easy as it sounds! So where as a photographer do we start?  There are a couple of essential pieces of equipment required; a fast lens (F1.8 – 2.0 territory), a high ISO capable camera, a powerful flash gun with a 180 degree rotating head, a ‘flag’ for the flash (I use the Spinlight 360) and a gel to warm up the flash light.

Lets handle the dark, cavernous, conditions.  There are 3 camera settings which impact ambient exposure; aperture, ISO and shutter speed.  Increasing any of these will in turn increase the exposure of our photograph.  In this scenario our flash will be the main source of light for our subjects, however, we want the ambient light to register to a degree in our photo in order to provide setting context and to avoid the commonly found ‘black hole’ background.  To do so we could increase any of the aforementioned camera controls.  Historically slowing the shutter speed was the ‘go to’ method of doing this, as this as the only independent control of controlling ambient light when using flash .  In turn, movement such as a dancing couple could cause motion blur in our final photo.

With digital cameras and TTL flash guns we do not have to be restricted in using shutter speed alone.  We can increase ambient exposure by using aperture and ISO in order to maintain a relatively fast shutter speed.  In turn, our TTL flash gun will add the ‘correct’ amount of flash based on these settings.  How much  ambient exposure we allow to register by is down to personal taste.

Settings for the final photograph above were f1.8, ISO 1600, 1/80. Flash TTL

When flash light is a large contributor to a photo I always try to avoid direct flash light.  As a result the flash was bounced behind me, off a rear wall, at an angle I would want the light to come from in order to provide some directional lighting.  In addition, the cold light of the flash is warmed with a 1/2 CTS gel to help the flash light blend in with the warm ambient lighting.  My flash gun is ‘flagged’ using a black card via the Spinlight 360 modifier to tightly control the direction of light.

The result? I hope you agree, is a very naturally looking flash-lit photograph coupled with a loving expression of a very happy Bride & Groom.