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ON-CAMERA FLASH: The only modifier you'll ever need…

When I purchased  my first speedlight (on-camera flash) long ago I was never impressed by the results.  If I shot the speedlight directly onto my subject the light was flat and I usually ended up with heavy shadows in the background.  Then came the revelation of bouncing flash off the ceiling, thus removing any shadows in the background but this in turn created shadows on the subject, namely the eyes and nose.  I started to dabble in manual off-camera light using wireless triggers and speedlights and the possibilities were endless! I really enjoy the challenge of creating edgy portraits using 1-3 speedlights off-camera, and in time with a lot of practice I began to understand exposure values and could rig up and select an option close enough to what would be my final exposure settings without the need for a metering system.  Strobism (manual off-camera lighting with speedlights) has one major pitfall though.  Like any studio lighting setup big or small, it takes time to get your lights erected and in position whilst instructing a model but the results are fantastic!

In any situation time is never on your side.  Be it commercial, PR, landscape, wedding or even family portrait photography, time is always a key factor and dictates how when and where we plan to take a shot.  That is why on-camera flash is so appealing and in most cases, photographers opt for direct flash in many of these scenarios.  It’s very difficult to lug around kit for off-camera scenarios or indeed move the lights from one location to the next.

There is another alternative though provided that you have the patience and don’t mind working with your camera in manual exposure mode.  I found a New Jersey based photographer Neil van Niekerk using this method and decided to give it a try.  It is quick, effective indoors and provides beautiful soft directional lighting.  Rather than bouncing your on-camera strobe at the ceiling, try bouncing at a nearby wall or even behind your shoulder.  You are effectively using that wall as a larger, softer light source like an off-camera softbox.  I strap a piece of cardboard that I’ve coloured black with a permanent marker in order to direct as much light as possible towards the new source.  I use an elastic band to secure it in place which gives me the flexibility to move it quickly should I decide to shoot portrait or bounce light in a different direction.

Below are a few examples of using this technique in on the fly to produce stunning portraits/moments.  Each and every shot below incorporated the cardboard modifier to intelligently bounce light off larger sources to achieve soft, directional light.  If you require any further info feel free to ask in the comments section below.

  1. ttekcorbnave on Monday 11, 2010


  2. redskyni on Monday 11, 2010

    Thanks Evan. Hope this little technique helps when you’re shooting the stars of today and tomorrow. :D

  3. Car on Monday 11, 2010

    Thanks for the info I will definately try this ;) Car