Photographing people indoors often requires the use of flash for added light. Direct, on camera flash however often results in multiple problems, red eye, washed out or overexposed subjects and of course, harsh, unflattering light.
If you use the flash built in to your camera, you don’t have many options. However, if you use an external flash you can change the small, direct light source of your flash head to a large diffuse source by bouncing the flash off of the ceiling.
Most external flash units sold today have heads that swivel and tilt for directing the flash. Directing the flash at the ceiling makes the ceiling your lights source. In my tip Quality of Light and the Size of Your Light Source I talked about how the the size of your light source affects the quality of light, larger generally being considered better. In this case, the light reflecting off of the ceiling is significantly larger than your flash head. The resulting light on your subject is softer, shadows are not as harsh and the lighting is more even throughout the subject area.
To effectively use bounce flash, you need a ceiling that is not too high. The higher the ceiling, the higher the light loss (refer back to my tip on flash to subject distance). If the ceiling is textured your light will be more diffuse than if it is not. Bouncing your flash off of a coloured ceiling will introduce that colour into your photo so using this technique with white ceilings works best, however, ceilings with a slight warm tint may add a nice warm tone to your image. Your flash should be directed at about 45 degrees to the ceiling though the distance to your subject will determine the actual angle you may need.
Finally, use your histogram or image review on your camera. If you find your images are a little dark your flash may not have enough power to effectively bounce off the ceiling though you can increase your ISO to negate that effect.
The two photos below are images of my niece. The photo on the left was shot direct with flash. The flash was mounted on a bracket above the camera to help eliminate red eye and direct any shadows down and behind her. As you can see, the lighting is flat and unflattering. The image on the right was shot with the same set up but with the flash pointed toward the ceiling at about a 45 degree angle. As you can see the shadows are softer, skin tones are more appealing and she has gained a little bit of warmth compared to the first shot.
Being able to control your light is one of the basic steps to better photography.
Until next time, happy shooting.
The digital photography tip of the week is written by the PCIN Assistant Editor, Chris Empey. Chris is a long time photographer and is currently the President of the Niagara Falls Camera Club. You can see more of his photography at his Photo of the Day website.
If you have a tip to send Chris, or a question about digital photography he can address in the newsletter, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org