Bounce Flash Photography Tips

No flash, on-camera flash, flash that is bounced? Which is best? Bouncing your flash leads to gorgeous, diffused lighting that brings out the best in whoever or whatever you’re photographing. It’s easy to do and you’ll love the results. Bounce flash is a technique every photographer should be using as a matter of course. Check out these bounce flash photography tips for natural-looking images.

bounced flash with case

What Is Bounce Flash?

When you bounce your flash, you avoid pointing it directly at your subject, instead bouncing the light off a ceiling or nearby wall to produce soft, gorgeous lighting that adequately illuminates the scene or people you’re photographing. The main objective of bounce lighting is to soften the light source. It is also a great way to control your lighting. Bouncing the light off a ceiling incorporates it as part of the light source, filling in the shadows, detailing the highlights, and producing a flattering catch light in the subject’s eyes.

Bounce flash is especially useful when shooting indoors in low-light, and will better enable you to properly light your subject in challenging lighting situations. Light, that is aimed directly at a person, will be harsh, with unnecessary shadows. It also doesn’t give that coveted three-dimensional look all photographers hope to achieve. It’s easy to bounce you’re flash so there’s really no reason not to make this technique your modus operandi.

What Is Soft Lighting?

Soft lighting is indirect lighting created by diffusion. The outcome is a gradual transition from light to dark with no hard shadows. Light that is bounced, is light that wraps itself around the subject, with the edges of the shadows being open and soft. The closer the light source is to the subject, the softer the light becomes. Also, the larger the light source, the softer the light will be. If you want dreamy, low-contrast lighting, place a large light source fairly close to your subject.

On the hand, the further away and smaller the light source, the harder the light will be. There’s a place for this type of lighting, and is applicable when you want well-defined shadows, with a sharp transition between the shadows and the highlights. It’s also good if your aim is to convey a mood that depends on high contrast. Transform hard lighting into soft lighting by diffusing it. This can be done with soft boxes, umbrellas, reflectors, and by bouncing the light. The picture below is a great example of indirect, soft lighting that has been bounced.

kitchen in medium wood

Bounce Flash Photography Tips

Take into account these flash photography tips next time you want to bounce your flash:

1. Look for walls and ceilings that are white or light in color. Light-colored surfaces are reflective, whereas, dark-colored walls absorb the light.

2. The goal is to have light reach your subject’s face so be sure to bounce your light accordingly. Many people associate bounce flash as light that is bounced off a ceiling. While this is true, you can also take advantage of light that is more directional in nature. In this case, you would want to bounce your light off an adjacent wall, by pointing your flash to the side. You can even tilt your flash slightly behind you, and off to one side, to get creative with your lighting.

3. Use a higher ISO to assure the scene you’re photographing is adequately lit. If you’re in a darkly-lit wedding hall, for example, you’ll have to make the call whether to bump up your ISO, in order to expose correctly, or deal with the resulting grain.

4. Increase exposure by a stop or two depending on the particular lighting conditions you’re shooting in. Using a wide aperature will allow you to bring in more ambient light, which may be necessary, and is especially helpful when photographing light subjects with dark backgrounds.

5. Drag your shutter speed to take further advantage of the ambient light, especially when the majority of the light is coming from your flash. Your photos will look more natural. However, if you want a high-key photo, with more contrast, opt for a faster shutter speed and less ambient light.

6. Use your flash in manual mode. I find I get the most control over my flash when I use it in manual mode. You can also use TTL, which is an automatic mode where the camera decides how much light is emitted. TTL stands for “through the lens,” and connects your flash to your camera via the lens. This allows the camera to control the flash. Keep in mind, using manual mode won’t drain your battery as fast, and gives you the most control in terms of lighting output.

SmugMug bannerWhat You Will Need

While off-camera lighting is amazing, it’s often not convenient. Photographing an all-day wedding, where you’ll be shooting in a variety of locations, is a perfect example. This is where a portable light source, such as bounce flash, comes in handy.

You’ll need a speedlight, with a swivel head, that screws onto the hot shoe of your camera. A tilting head that moves back and forth, and up and down, will allow you to bounce your flash off walls, as well as the ceiling. This is the speedlight I’ve been using for years. It’s a total workhorse.

Here’s a speedlight for all you Nikon users. I also use Gary Fong’s collapsible speed mount lightsphere in certain situations. It’s amazing for gently dispersing the light and softening shadows, and since it’s a soft-bodied dome, it’s easily collapsible for easy storage. This lightsphere is compatible with Nikon speedlights.

Key Points

Bounced lighting is soft, diffused, indirect lighting that is great for minimizing shadows, and producing flattering, natural-looking light. You’ll need an on-camera flash, at the very least, and perhaps a diffuser.  Set your flash to manual mode or TTL, using light-colored walls and ceilings to bounce your light. Like any new technique, there’s a bit of a learning curve, but gradually you’ll love the results you get from bouncing your flash. I hope these flash photography tips that I’ve shared will take your images to the next level.

Do you use bounce flash? Can you offer additional tips and tricks. Let me know in the comments:)

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8 thoughts on “Bounce Flash Photography Tips”

  1. I can see that bounce flash will make an image look a lot better in certain situations and it is easy to do. I went on a photography college course for 2 years and studied studio lighting. It makes a lot of sense to bounce your flash, because it makes a difference in how the light is directed at the person or scene you’re photographing. 

    This is a really important topic and I am pleased you have covered it. I think when you have an image in your head of what you want it to look like, bounce flash probably achieves the required look. 

    • Yes, you’re right Eden. Bouncing your flash does make a big difference in how your subject will look. The light is natural-looking and flattering which will paint who you are photographing in their best light.

  2. Thank you for this great tip on making photos more rich! I love the photo of the kitchen area. It looks so deep and with beautiful contrast. I will have to remember this the next time I am taking photos of my dream house! As beautiful as it is, I can only envision it looking even more beautiful with this technique.

    I do some portrait photography and typically use the TTL setting on my flash. I do, in fact, use the Speedlight for the Nikon as we use Nikon’s exclusively. (Not my choice as I do prefer the Canon, but, I use what I am allotted!)

    I think the look of the bounce flash is amazing and I will be incorporating it more in my photos. Most of what I do is for the newspaper at which I work, but I could see some truly beautiful photos coming from this technique.

    I do a lot of outdoor photography. Is there a place for bounce lighting outdoors? If so, how would I incorporate it?

    Thank you and I am looking forward to your reply!

    • Hi Karin,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. The look of bounce flash is amazing. When photographing outdoors, you could bounce your flash off a reflector or a white building. Get creative and use whatever is at your disposal. 

  3. I’m just getting into photography and this seems a little too advanced for me right now, but how do you find an appropriate angle for the light to bounce off of?  Is it trial and error, a guide light of some sort?

    How much does the material you are bouncing the light off of matter in the amount and intensity of the light that actually hits the subject, for example would a light wood finish react the same as a light paint finish, or gloss vs matte?  The article was too interesting, I’ve got questions.

    • Hi Mike,

      Thanks for reading and commenting. The best angle would be one that casts the light into your subject’s face if you’re shooting portraiture. I’m not sure the material of the bounce source matters as much as the color. Light colors will reflect light, while dark colors absorb it. This is why bouncing a flash off a white ceiling or light-colored walls is effective. 

  4. Holly has done something quite unique with her web site.  From a creative standpoint, she has quite effectively promoted her photography business while instilling a sense of curiosity to those even faintly interested in the topic.  I’m a photography fan and one of my daughters and granddaughters have their own cameras and have caught the bug!

    I found Holly’s web site extremely easy to navigate and she has done something else that is somewhat unusual.  Her About Me spiel and her contact information are on every page and there is no mistaking that, if the viewer were even remotely interested in contacting her, it is very easy to do.

    The web site has been bookmarked and I expect to revisit quite often!


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