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Bounce flash and choice of background + backlighting

This is where style and technique intersect – the choice of how to use flash (or any other kind of additional lighting) at wedding receptions. Many photographers prefer the crisp look of multiple off-camera flash setups at wedding receptions. While I do think some of the photos look incredible, I am not convinced that the success rate is all that high. Hot spots in the background, and weird cross-shadows will mar many of the photos. My preference has always been for the predictability and flexibility of using on-camera bounce flash.

A question that then comes up is, what about back-lighting? I don’t back-light during the wedding reception. For romantic portraits with the B&G, yes, I might. But not the reception. I prefer the flexibility of moving around independently.

I do try to avoid that black-hole background where the subject merges into deep shadow.

This is done in two ways:

1. ) Pushing my camera settings so that I get more detail in the background.
2.) Then, I also do my best to have some out-of-focus elements in the background that is brighter. I choose specific backgrounds where there is some light which helps separate my subject from the background. This could be DJ lights, up-lighting, a doorway, sconce lights, anything. Just not a dark-hole background.

When I shoot like this during receptions … what I am aware of, is my own position in regards to the background. I don’t try and make every shot in every direction work.


Camera settings & photo gear (or equivalents) used for these photos

The few examples here (from a wedding in 2011), show this way of using bounce flash. Here I still used the Nikon D3, and shot at 1600 ISO. These days I would tend to push the ISO higher for a brighter background.

Working with on-camera bounce flash like this though, most often allows me more flexibility in my own movement, and I can shoot in large reception venues with a wide-angle lens without risk of hot-spots from an off-camera flash. Here is another example: Wedding reception lighting with one flash.

Using on-camera bounce flash effectively like this, is also described in my book, On-Camera Flash Photography:


On-Camera Flash Photography

On-Camera Flash Photography – revised edition

This book is explains a cohesive and thorough approach to getting the best from your on-camera speedlight.

Particular care was taken to present it all with a logical flow that will help any photographer attain a better understanding of flash photography.

You can either purchase a copy via Amazon USA and Amazon UK, or can be ordered through Barnes & Nobles and other bookstores. The book is also available on the Apple iBook Store, as well as Amazon Kindle. Also check out the Amazon Kindle store.

Learn more about how the cover image was shot.


As regular readers of the Tangents blog might suspect already, I did use the Black Foamie Thing here to control the direction of my light, and to control spill from my flash.

It is the least expensive light modifier you could possible make.
The aspect of it that I take pride in, is that it now isn’t about the specific device you plonk on your flash .. it now really becomes about the crucial part of flash photography – the direction of light.

In essence what it does is block your light from your flash from hitting your subject when you bounce to the side, or bounce your flash slightly towards your subject.

One of the photography industry magazines, recently featured an article on Lighting throughout a wedding day. In the section on Lighting the Party and Dancing, the author mentioned that she “despises flat on-camera flash”.  Well, it need not be that bad when you use directional on-camera bounce flash.

Oh, the other advantage of using the BFT (which sits underneath your speedlight, NOT on top), is that it blocks the light of your flash from blitzing people in the face when they stand close to you. This is important enough when you are standing close to the mother of the bride or someone you truly need to love you as a photographer. ie, it really reduces the annoyance factor of bare bounced flash.


Materials for the flash modifier used – the black foamie thing

I use the black foamie thing (BFT) as a truly inexpensive flash modifier to flag my on-camera flash to give me lighting indoors that truly look nothing like on-camera flash.The piece of foam (Amazon), can be ordered via this link. I cut the sheet into smaller pieces.

The BFT is held in position by two hair bands (Amazon), and the BFT is usually placed on the under-side of the flash-head.

The linked articles will give clearer instruction, especially the video clip on using the black foamie thing.



Does using on-camera bounce flash destroy the mood? That’s open for debate. I could say there wasn’t much mood other than ‘dark‘ at this reception venue. Flash was necessary. HOW to use the flash is open for discussion though.

Whether you decide to use something as simple as on-camera bounce flash during the wedding reception, or go as complex as multiple off-camera flash setups … it it important that you maintain a consistent style. Consistent throughout your website, so that clients know what to expect from you. Also, it needs to be consistent and predictable during the wedding reception. It has to be a technique that you can use to consistently deliver images that look as good as you promised your clients.


Related articles


Video tutorials to help you with flash photography

If you like learning by seeing best, then these video tutorials will help you with understanding flash photography techniques and concepts. While not quite hands-on, this is as close as we can get to personal instruction. Check out these and other video tutorials and online photography workshops.


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