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Chapter 3 Flash Gear and Accessories > Two Basic Flash Techniques

Two Basic Flash Techniques

Direct, on-camera flash and bounce flash are basic flash techniques that don’t require the use of flash modifiers like diffusion attachments or bounce cards. Those accessories are extremely useful tools to have on hand, but you should first become acquainted with the techniques you can use to get great shots when only one on-camera, unmodified flash unit is available.

Direct Flash

Although many flash enthusiasts will tell you that direct, on-camera flash (see Figure 3.1) is a “no-no,” that isn’t necessarily true. It’s actually a widely used look for everything from event photo booth shots to magazine covers and fashion ads. Yes, direct flash can be harsh and contrasty, but it can also evoke a sense of excitement and urgency. It’s entirely possible to create a bold, powerful portrait and good group shots with direct, on-camera flash. It can be most effective when your subject is positioned a very short distance from the background, where a background surface is absent, or when used very subtly for outdoor fill light.

Figure 3.1 The normal flash position (left) will result in the subject receiving direct flash.

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Be aware that using on-camera flash in the normal position while your camera is in the vertical shooting position can cause a noticeable side lighting effect which is not always desirable. Camera-mounted flash can also create flare effects in reflective surfaces behind your subject (directly opposite your flash).

Bounce Flash

Direct flash has its place in the list of basic flash techniques, but much of the time it can result in harsh, unflattering portraits. Fortunately, most mid- to high-end flash units are equipped with flash heads that are capable of tilting up to 90 degrees while simultaneously rotating up to 180 degrees to the right and/or left. Depending on the environment, this allows for a creative use of bounce flash which can greatly improve the look of your pictures.

By aiming the flash off the camera axis so that its light strikes a large light-colored surface (like a wall and/or ceiling), the relatively small and harsh light coming from the flash is transformed into a large and diffuse glow, illuminating the environment and your subjects more evenly. As you prepare to shoot a photo in a normal-sized room for instance, tilt your flash head so that it points up about 45 degrees, then rotate it 180 degrees as shown in Figure 3.2. This will cause the flash to illuminate a large area of the wall and ceiling behind you, which will then evenly illuminate the room.

Figure 3.2 With a flash unit capable of having its head rotated 180 degrees and tilted up (right), you can achieve pleasing bounce flash illumination off the wall and ceiling surfaces behind you.

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TTL is capable of metering and controlling flash output when the flash is not striking the subject directly, so you are free to bounce the flash illumination and still benefit from TTL’s automatic flash control. Creative use of bounce flash will be covered in detail in Chapter 4.

Figure 3.3 On-camera flash shown in normal forward-facing position (left) and in bounce position (right).

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