Basics of Flash Photography
Four Fundamentals we must know

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What hot shoe flashes do

Here is another look at "what lights do". This time uses a camera hot shoe mounted flash (flat frontal lighting), in various configurations. Note that (speaking generally of basics), here we are discussing:

We use lighting gear and procedures to change the effects, but beginners may not yet realize that to prevent fooling themselves, they should learn the skill to actually carefully look at the results, and should be able to actually see and identify and verify the effects they imagine they are creating.

On-camera frontal light can make harsh dark shadows behind the subject, but then On the subject itself, frontal light is very even (to a fault — meaning flat, excessively even everywhere, no shadows on the subject's face for example), so soft is not really a consideration when flat (no shadows to be soft). Off-camera lights intentionally make shadows On the face (tonal gradients which show shape), but which must be made soft to be pleasing. Bounce flash is one way to get much of the light effectively off-camera, and soft too.

Speaking of portraits, generally we try to eliminate the shadows behind the subject, and soft light goes far towards that goal. But we intentionally create the desirable gradient shadow tones on the subjects face (off-camera lights do this), to be more natural, by better showing curves and shapes there. However, we create soft light to make those to be pleasing, not harsh.

But I think sometimes beginners do not realize at first what they should be looking for in such comparisons (maybe they don't actually know or think yet about what they are trying to do). They should learn to look too (To look means actually seeing). A direct hot shoe light is flat frontal lighting which does not make shadows "on the subject" (it's frontal, on lens axis, and so flat — it does not create or show shadow gradient tones which define shape and curves). Any shadows are mostly hidden behind the subject, but it can make a few shadows "under" the subject due to the higher hot shoe angle, normally sharp and dark and objectionable. However, again, frontal light is flat (even), no visible shadows on the subject itself to show its shape. So that is better seen on the previous page because this page is hot shoe flash and mostly frontal light. But nevertheless, we can judge the softness of the light by the shadows, under the shell here, and in the detail on the shell. There are reasons to use either method. Harsh hard light from the side (dark shadows with sharp edges) can show texture detail better, where soft light (dim, vague shadows with fuzzy edges) sort of smooths and covers up surface blemishes (for example, the ridges on the shell to compare the hard and soft light). FWIW, these pictures were with a Nikon D300 at four feet, a 60 mm f/2.8 lens, and a SB-800 hot shoe flash. Four feet is a little too close for proper perspective in human portraits, six or seven feet would be better perspective.

This "point" is better detailed below.

1. Above: Direct flash, SB-800 on camera hot shoe, at four feet. Flat and very frontal lighting. Harsh dark sharp shadows behind, but one advantage is that the hot shoe flash position directly above the lens puts most shadows directly behind and below the subject, mostly hidden there behind subject, out of sight of the lens. We still see the shadows "below" the subject (arms, ears). The downside is that on-camera lighting is a very flat frontal light, no shadows ON the subject, illuminating all areas equally.

Flat lighting is not necessarily always "bad", it does light the subject very evenly, and has its time and place. I think of it as sort of a scientific effort trying for an exact reproduction (no more, no less), instead of seeking artistic lighting for most pleasing effect. Flat makes no shadows to show the rounded curves of the shape of the subject. Shadow tones show that, and flat has none. Compare this 1 to 7 below for example. In contrast to flat, the light from off-camera lighting adds shadows (NOT wanting those BEHIND the subject, but speaking of mild gradient shading tones ON the subjects face) which can model the subjects features, pleasing and natural, which we can soften with a fill light to be just subtle gradient tones.

Note too that if camera were turned on its end to portrait orientation, then the hot shoe flash is at the side of the lens, which would then make a terrible background shadow along the other side of subject. So, rotating flash brackets are designed to flip the flash location back to be directly above the lens in that case, in all cases, for this reason, to always keep the shadow hidden behind the subject. The brackets are typically used for Event photography for walk-around snapshots of the guests at an event (still direct flash).

In a fixed studio situation, a better solution to eliminate background shadows is to use soft lighting up close to the subject, and move the background back a few feet. And/or another light can be added to just the background.

This background is a 30x22 inch white paper from the craft store, curved up behind bear (seamless bottom corner), close, only a few inches, with thought of showing the intentional shadows here.

2. Above: Added Nikon SB-800 diffusion dome, still aimed at subject, still same direct flash. Not much happened. Still very flat direct frontal lighting, still dark and sharp and harsh. Again, judge the softness of the light by the shadows under the shell (see the last umbrella picture below for what soft light looks like). The diffusion dome does scatter the light, but is simply too small to do anything about softness. It can spread the beam to illuminate a wider area, but it has barely a just-perceptible slight effect of softness, very slightly softer shadow edges, slight gray fringes around the slightly less dark shadow. At least, this is possibly barely perceivable up very close (this is only four feet), because the light does appear relatively larger up very close to the subject than when more distant. It has even less effect at greater distance. If you might imagine your directly aimed dome is actually doing something at 6 or 8 feet, better check it again. The dome does require more flash power, so the flash color will become slightly warmer which you may like, however, we can do that other ways too. The point here is that there is very little effect from the dome with direct flash, the light is simply too small (about 2 inch dimension). Repeat this same test so you can see and believe. We ought to be able to actually see any effects we believe we create.

3. Above: Heavy Duty diffusing - Still using plastic diffusion dome, but also covered it with piece of white bed sheet linen for more diffusion. The shadows do have slightly softer edges (lighter gray fringe around slightly less dark shadow, filled more by scattered light), but not much... still very prominent dark shadows. "Soft" is about a large light source (we did not change the small size here). This light is still very small, still the same size as the flash head, about two inches. If this white fabric were larger and hanging a couple feet out in front of the flash, so the light pattern on the cloth would be larger, like an umbrella perhaps... Large is what makes soft. And close emphasizes large.

4. Above: SB-800 pull-out flip-down wide angle diffuser adapter lens. Little effect. It is a diffuser too, but diffusion is not what does the job. Diffusion just scatters the light outward, wider angle which is its purpose, but the light mostly missing the narrow subject. Large is what makes soft, scattering the light inward to the subject from widely different directions (when it is large enough, and close enough, to do that).

5. Above: Bounce flash, on 10 foot ceiling (7 feet above table), still same hot shoe flash, same as before, but pointing up now, with no accessories. Bounce is a Big Deal, adding much advantage. Notice the shadows. The shadows are now below instead of behind, and much more vaguely defined because the ceiling is acting like a very large umbrella up there. There is no frontal fill, but 6. and 7. will add that (also causing weak shadows "behind"). Bounce is a very soft light, because the ceiling is large, and now it acts like a very large "light" up there (and large is what makes soft).

However this light comes from above now, vague dim shadows below the object (pretty much eliminated with a little separation distance to this background). We can barely detect the shadows of the bears arms down on the "floor" beside the legs. We can barely detect the ridges on the top and left side of the shell (absence of shadows to show those ridges). For clinical detail, the hard light shadows may show the ridges on the shell better, but the soft light is aesthetically smoother, important to smooth out skin blemishes in portraits. The bounce light is very natural for the bear too, but the steep direction down also causes eye socket shadows (camera with bounce should not stand quite this close to subject in practice).

Notice we lost the catchlights in the eyes now, with light from ceiling above instead of direct from camera. I think the bear is frowning now? Catchlights are very important. But a bounce card or dome can restore it, below. And standing back at more normal portrait distance can reduce the steepness of that eye angle too (zoom in all you want, but stand back a bit. That helps facial perspective too.)

Can't see it here on this very close background, but bounce is also rather less affected by the inverse square law — the longer path up and down is more able to "fill" a small room with even light everywhere, instead of being dark behind our subjects. When there is a suitable ceiling, bounce is the best thing you can do for a hot shoe speedlight, but it does need a slight frontal fill (small bounce card, for catch light if nothing else). Bounce also requires a lot of flash power. Start at ISO 400 and f/4, which mostly likely works in most situations (a 12 foot ceiling is pushing it, but a small flash likely needs more ISO). With lower ceilings, you can experiment with f/5.6 and/or maybe ISO 200, but watch excessive recycle time and dark results (on Nikon flashes, watch for Ready LED blinks which is an insufficient power warning). Flash compensation cannot correct insufficient flash power.

6. Above: Same bounce flash with SB-800 diffusion dome added. It is aimed up for the bounce, from same position. That's the purpose of the dome, to provide forward fill with bounce flash. The difference now is that the spill from its front side adds forward fill. We do get some of the direct shadows back, and this forward spill is why we might use it. The frontal fill shows the bear's eyes, and the ribbon in the chin shadow now. We get some of the shell ridges back (direct frontal shadows). One very important aspect is that it adds catch lights in eyes (on humans too, which is necessary sparkle to add "life ad vitality").

But this forward spill adds similar rear shadows as direct flash (under bear's ears and arms for example), however they are a little less dark here because the bounce light fills them, and the direct spill fills the bounce shadows too. Question: Which does it more? Rhetoric here, but it is a question you should be able to answer about your own pictures. In this case, the camera is only at four feet, and the flat frontal fill shadows are the darker shadows, so the direct spill is the major light here, not the bounce (look at front edge of shell). We would prefer the opposite, the forward spill should be fill, not the main light. Excessive direct forward spill in this case. It's clear to see if we just look.

We like to pretend the dome's spill light goes out all four sides and hits all the room's walls and comes back to subject from all directions, but consider that the inverse square law says this is usually not very likely. The dome above is four feet from the bear, and ten feet overall to and back from a wall five feet right of the shell, and there is no evidence of any shadow on the left there. The light is just lost. Five feet to wall, five feet back is ten feet, plus losses at the wall reflection, so any side spill here is at least three stops less than the frontal light (insignificant). Maybe better if the subject were also at ten feet. Or maybe in a small room, but I have tried and tried, and even with closer walls, I never find any evidence of the scattered wall bounce. The forward spill is too great, it wipes out the bounce shadows, and now it is direct flash with bounce fill. But there is the obvious frontal fill, which is why we might use it (but my bet is on the small bounce card).

It is good to know that this forward spill is what domes do, however the bounce ought to be the major effect and main light (my opinion). But the forward spill fill with bounce is what the domes add, and any imagined diffusion is the least of it (the dome is just too tiny). The domes should be judged by how well they do this (and not by how warm their higher power requirement changes flash color, which was balanced later here). IMO, these are some of the things our comparisons should be looking for.

7. Above: Bounce flash with SB-800 pull-out white bounce card — its forward spill adds the catch lights and frontal fill as does the dome. Note that compared to 1, the ceiling bounce fills the direct shadows somewhat (less dark behind ears and arms), and compared to 5, dimmer shadows under the shell. The big deal is the eye catchlights compared to bounce only in 5, which adds aliveness and vitality to a portrait. This is my preference with a hot shoe flash, just about right. The built-in card is a fine size, and it is adjustable, we do not have to pull it all the way out for close distances. My opinion is that the small bounce card is usually better than the dome, and better than a large card, because less is more here (and the card does not reduce the overhead bounce power like the dome does). When we look, what we hope to "see" are the frontal shadows on the subject. Generally we try to entirely prevent or minimize any objectionable shadows behind which distract, but we want intentional mild gradient tone shadows across the subjects face, which better show curves and shapes, the 3D appearance. And the added catch-lights in the eyes are always good. The main light should be off camera, but mild frontal fill is normally a good thing.

The point of this page is to mention looking, and actually "seeing":

In 1. above, the direct flash picture is frontal, and flat, no shadows or shading are ON the subject. Under ears and chin and arms is illuminated, evenly, flat, frontal. It shows the dark shadows from hot shoe direct flash, on background below the subjects ears and arms. We know where that light had to come from.

2, 3 and 4 didn't add or help much, if any.

And 5. above shows the shadows from ceiling bounce, a big effect, very natural and soft and diffused. The natural tonal shading on the bears head and body better shows the subjects shape. Shadows under ears and chin and arms, natural, and also, barely perceivable, very vaguely on the ground, all from above. We know where that light had to come from. Darkness of this shadow depends on closeness of shadow to the subject (due to diffusion from large lighted spot on the ceiling). We notice there are no desirable catch lights in the eyes.

6 and 7 added some frontal fill, and some direct frontal shadows. 6 a bit too much. This 7. shows the direct shadows from the bounce card, weak compared to full direct flash, but clearly there to see and verify and judge, if we just look, and see. It is a small bounce card, the exposed card area is 1.8x1.4 inches (about 45x27 mm), but we can see it's very adequate. It's a shorter direct path than the bounce, and brighter than we might imagine (larger and stronger would simply convert lighting to be direct flash again). The frontal fill is clearly there, we see its shadow to help judge its effect. And it adds the added catch lights in the eyes, and compared to 5, one effect is that it reduces the dark shadows under the chin and ears. We can see what it does, if we notice. We can judge if its effect is what we want, and if its performance justifies our reason for adding it.

And the bounce is clearly there too, we can see its shadow to help judge its effect. The lighting ratio of these two sources is determined by the height and reflectivity of the ceiling, and the size of the card and its direct distance. We can't measure that, but we can see the result. The Bounce shadows from the ceiling above (under ears and chin, and on the ground below) are still there to be seen, lighter, filled, still natural, but not obliterated by the direct fill flash. Still natural off-camera light, NOT flat. Some clearly try to obliterate the bounce lighting, why bother to do it then I dunno, but suspect they are not thinking. The off-camera tonal shading on bears head and body better shows the "shape" of the subject. We know where the "two" lights had to come from, and can judge their effect and contribution, and if all is desirable. This is all easy to see, if we just look, and learn to see it, to know what's actually happening. The trick is to see, to actually see. We really ought to identify and judge the effect of all of our light sources. There must be some reason of using them... did they work right? Is our goal met?

Using another bounce card that is "as large as possible" would wipe out all effect of the bounce, looking more like 1. above. That larger card could be another plan, perhaps if outdoors with no ceiling, but it is not bounce lighting.

It is always good if the background is further back than the few inches here. Light from a soft umbrella on a background 4 or 5 feet back surely makes no subject shadow at all. Then that background distance likely needs its own background light, which further eliminates any subject shadow. But bounce is unique in that it can illuminate a greater background distance than a direct light can.

The point: Did the pictures tell you any of this before you read anything? Was it all obvious at first glance? This may not be a deep discussion, but everything about lighting is there to be seen, but we have to look, and to learn to actually "see" it. Seeing requires thinking about what you see, and it's not easy, it often takes us awhile to learn to see. We imagine the newly purchased gadget to add to our flash must have some advantage, but instead of blind faith in marketing, we need to actually look, and see, and verify that we actually see that advantage, and can duplicate it. Start by actually looking. If the effect is there, you should be able to see what it does. If you can't see it, maybe think again about what was its point?

To learn to see, start watching the lighting you see in the movie and television scenes, especially the human closeups. The news anchor too, most commercial lighting is carefully planned. After you learn to "see", then maybe you can't stop noticing it. 😊 You may soon realize you're more interested in the lighting used than about solving the murder mystery story. Frankly, I was oblivious for years myself, did years of dark room work without actually knowing anything about lighting, until one day the light bulb finally came on, and I discovered the difference that actually looking makes. I had been told about "seeing", but didn't get that it meant more than exposure or composition. Seeing the details of tonal gradients (shadows) is what lighting is about. Not meaning background shadows (often eliminated), but the tonal gradients defining the subject itself.

Some users are unwilling to think about any of this, they only want a picture, without any fuss. But the photographers skill is to see and recognize what each light source actually does and contributes (again, it requires thinking about what we see). Each light has a purpose. Learning to know and plan in advance is good, but evaluating results is very important, and is how you get there. Then we can decide if we accomplished our goal, or if we want a different result. We can see what the light does if we just look and see. Seeing answers the questions about the lighting. Actually seeing what we have is a strong hint about what it needs instead. Create the lighting that you want to see in the photograph.

Beginners typically don't see yet. They may look, but few actually see or think about the right things, yet. It usually takes us all awhile to "get it". We can be a beginner for many years. But that "it" begins as described here. We have to learn to actually see the results we get. It is all there to be easily seen, if we just look, meaning actually see. Learning to see should be at the top our To Do list. I hope this helps someone, it can move you to an entirely better fast path.

The pull-out bounce card is my strong preference (for hot shoe bounce). The internet will find several "better bounce cards" which are much bigger, but which IMO are quite counterproductive for bounce. Their excessive fill covers up and hides the good soft lighting of the bounce effect from the ceiling. Yes, they can make a direct flash appear a bit larger, and yes, large is good when bounce is not possible, even if still not umbrella size. But you want the smaller card for bounce, for minor fill but mostly just for eye catch lights. So the name "bounce card" seems misleading for the large reflectors, they should be called reflector cards, size enhancers.

The camera was too close for bounce here (4 feet is too close), so stand back a bit and zoom in if necessary, a little more bounce angle, to have less extreme vertical light. We always want to keep the camera at least six feet from human faces anyway (for the proper perspective, to prevent enlarging noses, etc). For bounce (other than for flash power considerations), it won't hurt to stand maybe 8 or 10 feet back, to make the angle less steep (regarding eye sockets, etc). Zoom in when necessary, but don't stand too close. For the greater distances, perhaps aim the light near the halfway point on the ceiling, but watch your forward spill, you are aiming that too. My flash head is routinely at about the angle shown in the red picture here, so the direct flash lens itself will not spill forward.

In this bounce card picture, we see the direct shadow of the outright arm, and we can also still detect the arms bounce shadow down on floor by leg (compare both shadows to the dome just above — we need to realize what our light is doing). Direct is a darker shadow, we are only four feet away, but both are still present, and we did not totally blow away all effect of the bounce. On the previous diffusion dome picture before, this same lower shadow from the bounce is imaginary — we only have a direct frontally lighted picture there ... the bounce has effect with dome, but as fill light, not as main light. Was that the intended lighting? We do need to learn to look at our results. If we are going to use bounce, we ought to see some trace of it (and we do some, in darker spots, but we have to hunt for it). The big point here, this stuff is there to see, just look.

But all situations are NOT equal. This is from very close distance, and the direct spill will fall off to become weaker at greater distances (inverse square law), but the bounce light will hold up a little better at distance (in a small room). The point is ... look. And think. This is how we know what the lights are doing. Don't simply just add a huge forward direct spill and think you've done something. That's probably just flat frontal light again, obliterating the bounce effort. Direct flash will do that easier, but it's probably not what you want.

The size of the bounce card, and its degree of forward spill, is distance dependent. If you use a Large bounce card, probably all you get in small rooms is flat frontal fill, which may overwhelm and cover up all the soft bounce light which you spent flash power to try to get. You can see all of this if you think to look. The trick is each situation is a little different (different subjects), but there are many common situations too (distances). This SB-800 white card effective area above the flash is small, only 2x1.5 inches, and it does a LOT in small rooms. More is often not better, often less is more. But sometimes more is needed. We can watch what happens, and we can know to use different size bounce cards for different situations. But I normally use the small pull out card routinely, except at larger distances. Just watch, and if you don't see soft shadows from the ceiling bounce, you used way too much frontal fill (the bounce is no longer your Main light then). For example, the shadows around the bear's legs are very natural, expected, no problem. The shadows on the rear wall are less natural, less expected, more problem.

8. Above: Same SB-800 flash is in one white 45 inch reflected umbrella, fabric immediately above internal commander flash, fabric literally touching the top of the camera (same four feet distance), but its size is 40 inches taller. This is not where you would put an umbrella, off camera is a big advantage (see previous page example), but I was just trying to match the hot shoe flash pictures here (to show effect of size).

Of these, I think this is the best picture. The light is very soft. The umbrella is large like the ceiling (large makes soft), and is closer than the ceiling (close makes large, which makes soft). The umbrella is more frontally located than the ceiling, adding larger catch lights and no eye socket shadows (and umbrella has advantage that you can put it wherever you want to put it). Towards one side (off-camera) would have been better than frontal. And it's almost shadowless behind the bear, on same close background, without the harsh rear shadow added by bounce card or diffusion dome with bounce flash. The shell, not quite so much, but it is very close to the paper, little room for the fill light to wrap in under it. This is what soft light is. Two umbrellas become a different game, and then your ratio can be as shadowless as you wish, if close enough. But the normal tonal gradient shading is usually extremely desirable (Not flat).

The Theory: Both the umbrella and the diffusion dome are "diffusers", scattering the straight flow of light. The dome is only 2 inches wide (tiny, near zero, only 2.4 degrees wide as seen from four feet), so the only direction it can scatter light is outward, so that much of it simply misses the subject all together. The umbrella size is 40 inches (actual) and it is curved to catch and scatter the outer light inwards. It is placed close to the subject, making it be "large" in the face of the subject, 45 degrees large as seen by the subject at four feet. So light is coming from either side of the subject, from their left and from their right, and from top and bottom too. All these multiple paths of light from every which direction fill the shadows from all the other paths, so what we have is self-filling light, which is a very soft light. Large is what makes soft. And close is one factor of what makes large.

This picture of this bear is not important, but looking a minute to understand what the flash is doing is a good skill to polish. It is really not rocket science. It is merely about the size and direction of the light. We can easily see everything that happens. There are details, and the trick is to look at what you can actually see, to know if the effects you pretend actually happen, to know if you should be trying something else. It is like Yogi Berra said, "You can observe a lot just by watching".


White Balance: These are the same pictures as above, in same order, from Raw, but now all with constant Flash White Balance, and are not individually corrected for color as was done above. The different methods do cause the speedlight flash to operate with differing power levels... close direct flash is minimum power and blue, and ISO 200 f/7 bounce on a ten foot ceiling is maximum power and red (studio monolight flash are often the opposite, a design that becomes red at low power). The various methods and modifiers cause the power difference, but do not cause the color variations directly. The flash power level causes the color. The red pictures simply used more flash power than the blue pictures. Regardless of the modifier, the color will continue to vary with flash power, for example with subject distance and ISO and aperture and ceiling height. The point is, weigh this into your evaluation of these various gadgets. That is, don't confuse color with lighting. Don't attribute the color to a colorless device, because the color will still vary with power level, with the same device.

Actually correcting the white balance with a known white balance card will be the sure way to help.

I wanted to show this one more time. You can take these test pictures too, it is a five minute exercise. It is the looking later that takes time. You ought to be able to see the effects of actions that you believe to help, to know why you are doing it. This example is the simplest possible case. Hot shoe flash, just plop the gear out there, and press shutter button.

D300, ISO 400, f/8, 1/200 second. SB-800 hot shoe flash in TTL mode. Subject is at eight feet (80 mm lens DX), and 10 foot ceiling is 7.5 feet above table top. Statue is 14 inches tall, red paper is 22x28 inches, propped up against an empty cardboard box. There is a wall five feet to the right, but I am unable to detect an any effect of the dome "reflecting from all the walls". I do see its forward spill.

Bounce requires a lot more power, very near maximum here at f/8. The dome needs even more, and power level changes flash color if not corrected. I used a >white card (outside the crop area) to color correct by clicking it. #1 is direct flash, and rather different, but Adobe Raw says it came out 6550K, Tint -4 (blue at low power — 8 feet at f/8 is GN64 at ISO 400, which is GN32 in ISO 100 chart, which at 80 mm, shows about 1/32 power level) and its appearance was quite different. The others were bounce, and 4800K, 5050K & 49000K, Tint -12 (reddish at near full power, before correction). Point is, there are definitely two strong effects here, color and lighting. I did later adjust Raw exposure -0.3 EV on the first one, and +0.6 EV on the last one. Some of that is because TTL metering sees the preflash shadows too.

Direct flash

Bounce flash, alone

Bounce with SB-800 Pullout white bounce card
Fills bounce shadows, adds mild background shadows

Bounce with Nikon diffusion dome
Fills bounce shadows, stronger background shadows

To know what we are doing with the flash, we need to learn to look at the shadows, and at the shaded tone gradients we create. I am trying to encourage you to study your pictures, repeatedly (until you are able to see them), to learn what you are doing with the flash. There is no magic, it is all there in front of our face, and we can see it all, if we just look, and see. Since there is more here than many will see, perhaps this animation might help them notice more. Learning to look is the trick of lighting.

1. Direct flash. Black background shadows, but it is a flat frontal light. Direct frontal flash uses little power level. Flat frontal does not create shadow tone gradients. It seems hardly recognizable in #1, but that is a small lamb at far right.

2. Bounce flash. Flash head simply aimed up. Softer light from larger ceiling reflection, no black background shadows. But look at tonal range on the subject. Under the man's chin for just one example, shadow tone there shows the shape of the chin. Rest of his face too. Direct flash made it hard to even tell what the little lamb is. Look at the detail, curves and shapes and angles. The shadow tones are what helps to show shape and detail. We try to create those gradient tones (and flat frontal does not).

3. Pullout bounce card added - It spills some direct flash forward for fill. Best of all, it adds catch lights to human eyes, to add liveliness, vitality. Card was pulled out about half-way here, and it causes direct flash fill shadows to appear, under mans out-stretched arm, behind lady's head... (but nothing like direct flash alone). Look at how the bounce shadows are filled somewhat, still present, but lighter. Lightening the shadows reduces the contrast, but still tonal gradients remain.

4. Diffusion dome added instead of bounce card - This causes the same effect, the dome just adds forward direct spill, but greater fill level — the bounce shadows we added are almost covered over and gone. The direct background shadows are instead darker, more direct flat fill. Certainly not any softer, that's impossible (soft is NOT anything that tiny domes can do). The dome spills light in all directions, and some notions are that it reflects back from all the room walls, to aid softening. Might happen in very small rooms, but the inverse square law (distance to wall and back to subject, compared to direct subject distance) usually makes this be only wishful thinking. In the pictures above, the dome direct shadow is sharp, darker and not filled by any room walls. What the dome does is shown, direct forward spill. Actually now, the direct light is the main light, and the bounce is filling the dome's shadows. The dome will use more flash power to cause a warmer color cast if not corrected (and we may like that, but there are easier ways we can control better), but any dome is far too tiny to add "softness". Look at your own results, and believe in and plan for what you can actually see happens.

Domes do about the same job, but I like to use the bounce card better. The effect of the card can be adjusted by not pulling it all the way out, or using a different card, and the card obliterates the bounce lighting less, and it does not obstruct the ceiling flash power. A small card is enough, even for photos of a group of people. A large card just becomes brighter flat direct frontal light canceling the bounce effort, but still too small to be soft. The large ceiling bounce light is soft and purposeful, don't obliterate it. You should be able to identify some mild shadow somewhere contributed by the bounce (else what's the point of bounce?).

Copyright © 2009-2024 by Wayne Fulton - All rights are reserved.

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