the photoshooter's journey from taking to making


FIsh 'n'Books, 2013. 1/200 sec., f/3.5, ISO 100, 35mm.

Fish ‘n’Books, 2013. 1/200 sec., f/3.5, ISO 100, 35mm.


FOR THE MOST PART, THE USE OF ON-CAMERA FLASH SHOULD BE CONSIDERED A CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY. Scott Kelby, the world’s best-selling author of digital photography tutorials, famously remarked that “if you have a grudge against someone, shoot them with your pop-up flash, and it will even the score.” But, to be fair, let’s look at the pros and cons of using on-board illumination:

PROS : Cheap, handy

CONS: Harsh, Weak, Unflattering, Progenitor of Red-eye. Also, Satan kills a puppy every time you use it. Just sayin’.

There are, however, those very occasional situations where supplying a little bit of extra light might give you just the fill you need on a shot that is getting 90% of its light naturally. Even so, you have to employ trickery to harness this cruel blast of ouch-white, and simple bounces are the best way to get at least some of what you want.

In the above situation, I was shooting in a hall fairly flooded with bright mid-morning light, which was extremely hot on the objects it hit squarely but contrasty as an abandoned cave on anything out of its direct path. The fish sculpture in my proposed shot was getting its nose torched pretty good, but in black and white, the remainder of its body fell off sharply, almost to invisibility. I wanted the fish’s entire body in the shot, the better to give a sense of depth to the finished picture, but I obviously couldn’t flash directly into the shelf that overhung it without drenching the rest of the scene in superfluous blow-out. I needed a tiny, attenuated, and cheap fix.

Bending a simple white stationery envelope into a “L”, I popped up my camera’s flash and covered the unit with the corner of the envelope where the two planes intersected. The flash was scooped up by the envelope, then channeled over my shoulder, blowing onto the wall at my back, then bouncing back toward the fish in softened condition near the underside of the shelf, allowing just enough light to allow the figure’s bright nose to taper back gradually into shadow, revealing additional texture, but not over-illuminating the area. It took about five tries to get the thing to look as if the light could have broken that way naturally. Fast, cheap, effective.

The same principle can be done, with some twisting about, to give you a side or ceiling bounce, although, if high reflectivity is not crucial, I frankly recommend using your hand instead of the envelope, since you can twist it around with greater control and achieve a variety of effects.

Of course, the goal with rerouting light is to look as if you did nothing at all, so if you do save a picture with any of these moves, keep it to yourself. Oh, yes, you say modestly, that’s just the look I was going for.

Even as you’re thinking, whew, fooled ’em again.

2 responses

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