How to Bounce Flash to Improve Photography Lighting

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Bouncing flash to improve lighting

I'm here now with Michael Ninness, Executive Vice President here at Michael, good to see you. >> Michael's here to get an executive portrait done. Now, an executive portrait, you've probably seen these. They're the kind of things that go on a boardroom report. I don't know, where else do you guys use them? >> Websites. >> Websites. >> Yeah. >> Okay. >> Collateral. >> So this is, you know, typically the image where you want the, The the icon and business you know, towering, power, sort of kind of image here. Michael's wearing a dark t-shirt and high top sneakers. So plainly that's not the look that, that, that he needs.

He has generously volunteered his time here. So that we can get a shot of him. And we've picked out this boardroom, here at And usually when you are doing an executive portrait, you're, you're given a location and you've got very little time to get the shot done. So usually, what you need to do is get there early. Figure out what you have to work with. Try and get an idea of what your shot is. because you may only have three or four minutes. You got to get it done quick. You also usually don't have time for a lot of setup and that's where a flash can be critical. I have got a single strobe, I'm going to leave it on the camera.

And I'm going to try and get this shot. Now, you may be thinking, but, but, but you've been telling me that on camera flash is only for fill, and it's going to look lousy, and so on and so forth. And that's all exactly true, which is why I'm going to make good use of the ceiling in this shot. We're going to turn it into a light source. And see if that gets us what we need with a minimal setup. So, Michael, I, I came into this room, and started looking around for a place to shoot a portrait. And it's an interesting room. The yellow really hits you right away. There, there are some interesting things around that we could work with.

We got these which are, first of all, going to be a drag to work with flash because they're really shiny. And also it would look like we were in a kitchen. So I was thinking maybe not so much those. There's a big white board here. Down here we've got these two TVs on the wall. Which certainly have some kind of good iconography for, for Lynda. But really the dominant feature in the room and what's very compelling is the table. There's this black table with these kind of bumblebee like yellow and black chairs. The Lynda corporate colors. And they just create this nice repeating texture this way.

So, working with the table is probably the way to go, and table denotes board room, and executive, and all of that power. There's not a lot of room to work around here, there's not a great background in any direction, so what I'm thinking is, I would actually like you to climb up on the table. >> Sweet. >> Okay great. > > Now, if he had come in wearing the three piece suit, I might not have made that request, but the Darth Vader shirt is a good I want you to move to the dark side over here. And just right here in the middle of the table. >> In the middle. >> Yeah. I'm not, I'm not real sure what our position is going to be.

Can you find your way in here somewhere? Because one thing we're going to want to play with is focal length. And you should be familiar with all this already. Camera position and focal length is going to change how much the parallel lines recede into the distance, so we may want to play the chairs up more or less. So, before I even worry about light, let's just try and figure out what the shot is. I'm going to go for something kind of wide here. I'm going to lose this chair because it's not going to be in the shot and I think I need room to work. Okay. That's good. I like that pose, Michael.

So I've got some issues here working with the background. I'm not going to even deal with the flash yet. I'm going obviously slower than you would want to do if you had the three or five minutes, but you probably also wouldn't be. >> You've got about 16 more seconds. >> Oh my gosh. Okay. So here's what the light in the room looks like. And it's actually not that bad. There's a lot of light in the room. He's over exposing some but we're getting that fill light problem. He's got dark shadows under his eyes. The glasses, certainly don't make things any easier. I'm not getting the dramatic table thing that I want though so, Michael could you move forward please.

And I need to be paying close attention to the realtionship of him and those TVs in the background. I want to make sure they don't look like they're sprouting out of his head or, anything like that so. Looking maybe more like this. Let's try to forward a little bit more. You don't know this but I'm really playing with the relationship of your head to a bunch of things in the background. It should be a fairly painless process for you. Okay, I think that's what I want. That's him bigger in the frame. So, now let's go to flash. I'm going to just turn my flash on. I'm going to go into TTL mode. I do want some aperture control here.

So I'm going to switch to aperture priority, and open up, just to soften the background as much as possible. To really bring more focus to him. I may change my mind about that. And a straight head on flash shot, you know, I'm going to take one step here. I know that this flash is going to tend to be hot at its basic default value. So I'm going to go ahead and dial in one stop of negative flash exposure compensation. And we've been seeing that throughout this course, that by default the flash is usually too hot.

And sure enough, it is here. This has changed the lighting around here though. You can see that now I have got this light full in the face which is reducing some shadows but it just looks like a flash shot. So I'm going to turn down the flash exposure compensation again. Again normally you would want to have worked all of this stuff out before your model gets here. I think my 60 seconds is almost up here but fortunately we bolted the doors, so he can't actually get out. So that's a head on flash shot. And it's not terrible, but it looks like a flash shot. We haven't talked about size of light source.

This is a very small light source, that means it's going to create very strong highlights. That's what we're seeing on his skin, and on his glasses, and even in the background on the TV's some. We can make the light source much larger by bouncing the light off the ceiling. The light source in your image is actually the last place that the light left. So if we shine all this light up onto the ceiling, the ceiling is a very big area that's going to create a very big light source. We are basically turning the ceiling into our light. My flash pivots just by doing that. I've got it tilted a little bit forward.

I'm kind of trying to make a billiard shot here. I might even go forward a little bit more. I want to put a bunch of light right up there, with the idea that that's going to be creating a much more diffuse light than what I have here. This is a very focused light. Bouncing off the ceiling is going to give me a more broad, even light. I'm going to turn the exposure compensation back up a little bit, because I am going to loose some intensity, as I go bouncing around up there. Oh, I like that pose a lot, Michael. Now, my shutter speed has gone down to a 25th of a second. I'm not going to worry about that yet.

Look at the difference between these two. I've lost that shadow under his chin. This just looks a little more natural. I think it is still a little too hot. I'm going to turn that down by a third of a stop. So what would I do if I was wanting to work all this out before he got here? Ideally, I would need another person. I would have an assistant or somebody step in, and I would simply work with them and work out all of his lighting. Yes, that's, this is working much better. Dialing down the exposure compensation has killed some of those really bad hot spots, and again, if you look at this compared to the direct flash, this does not look like a flash picture.

I've created this nice big light source here, what I've done is create a big fill light, and it's wrapping all the way around him, it's creating this very nice soft light. So I have a fill light. Do I have a key light? Well, no not necessarily. You could argue that my fill is serving as both. However, it would be nice to have maybe a little bit of extra kick right on him, especially in his eyes. We want to see a catch light in his eyes. In the old days you would have taken your business card out and rubber banded it to the top of the flash. Nowadays most flashes have in them a little card that pops out here.

And so what that's going to do is, the flash is mostly going up towards the ceiling. But there's this little bit of reflector that's just knocking a little bit back towards the subject. So the difference there is this versus this. You can see there's just a little bit more highlight on him, I think now there's a little too much, so I'm going to dial that down. Now, I'm making a lot of judgments off of this LCD screen, and as you've probably already learned, the LCD on your camera is not necessarily super accurate, so what you're seeing me do is bracketing.

I'm bracketing my flash exposure though, I'm not bracketing my camera exposure, I could do that also, but I'm trying these different exposure compensations. And hoping that, when I get back to a real monitor and a real histogram, I'll be able to see one of these working better than another. Okay so I like that. That's put a little bit of extra life in his eyes. We expect to see that catchlight in there. So I've got the great good fortune that he's just doing all the work of modeling for me and, and I really like this pose.

I haven't had to tell him anything. I've been spending all my time talking to you guys. It's very rude. He's just sitting there. >> Fortunately he's being a good sport about it. One thing to bear in mind, when you've only got three or four minutes. When you come in, your subject needs to have confidence in your ability. That's another reason that you want to have worked all this out ahead of time. You don't want to come in and go, well I don't really know what I'm doing here. because then they're going to get scared and that's going to show up on camera. So, he's fortunately going ahead and doing what he should he doing, even though I'm not telling him anything at all. And actually, Michael, I don't know that I could improve on this.

Maybe tilt your chin down just a tiny bit. There we go. Okay. Good. Now, the next thing I want to try is the camera is maintaining its basic metering of the room. It's trying to show that back wall as much as possible. It's great if we want to show the whole room, I would like to try and bring a little more focus to him though. So I want to change my ambient exposure. Of course, every flash picture has a flash exposure and an ambient exposure. We worked out a good flash exposure, now let's think about the ambient exposure. The camera is metering, I had set it for F4, so I could have some shallow depth of field that's metering at a 25th of a second.

I would like to slow that down. So I'm going to just dial in some expsoure compensation. I'm sorry. I said slow that down. I meant speed that up. I want to darken the background. So I'm going to go to a faster shutter speed. I've dialed in two stops of negative exposure compensation. So that's getting me down to one, one hundredth of a second. I'm hoping that that's going to dim the background. However, I just turned the ceiling into this giant light source, so I might be getting a bunch of spill back there. We'll see what happens. Okay, that is working. Here's a before, here's after, you can see that I have dimmed the background some.

It's bringing more exposure to his face. I didn't warn him I was going to shoot and happened to catch him with a, quite mischievous look on his face. Michael, take a deep breath and let it out. Very good. Thank you. I'm liking this. I'm liking the dimmer background. Last thing I'm going to do here, is just double check some of the details in the frame. I've been concentrating so hard on my lighting, I've stopped doing that basic work of checking the edges on my frame. In a case like this where I'm working with flash with shiny things in the room, I'm going to look at those, those are showing up in frame. I don't see any egregious highlights.

I do have some on the monitors back there, and they're actually they're not my fault. They're they're coming from some of the lights that we are using to shoot me, I'm going to not worry about those. I could actually easily touch those out. If if I didn't feel like I could touch them out, I would want to try and look. For the source of that reflection and get rid of it. Last thing is the chairs I, there are a little bit uneven, if I was going to do this for real. Ahead of time I would have come and tried to even out the chairs a little more just to create some nice symmetry.

Otherwise I think it's okay. The plant in the background is a little wilted, but I don't think watering it right now is really going to make any difference. So, I'm doing the same work that I've always done. I'm thinking about my flash exposure, and my ambient exposure, and about how to balance those. I'm thinking about whether I need fill, or key, or both. In this case, I am creating fill light by bouncing off the ceiling. I have changed my light source from here to there. Now actually this is still my light source, but as far as the effect on my image goes, it's the last place the light left and in that case it's this nice big ceiling.

The bigger ceiling is giving me a softer light than the pointy light source of the flash itself. And finally, I'm working with my little bounce card here to get a little bit of extra kicker in his eyes it just makes them have a little more life. I have the great good fortune of a model who didn't mind me sitting here rambling on and stayed alive through the shot. And finally, I paid attention some to what he was wearing, and what his vibe was, and tried to think of a way of positioning that in the frame. Again, if he had come in in a three piece suit chomping a cigar or something. I would have wanted a, a different kind of look.

So you've gotta be working all of these things at once when you're doing something like an executive portrait. That's why it's a good idea to get in ahead of time and try and work it out. In the mean time, Michael, thank you very much. I really appreciate it. >> Thank you.

Bouncing flash to improve lighting
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Bouncing flash to improve lighting provides you with in-depth training on Photography. Taught by Ben Long as part of the Foundations of Photography: Flash

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