How to Avoid Harsh Light When Using a Flash

Learning to manipulate camera flash can be tricky for photographers who deal with harsh light or are inexperienced with a speed light. David Bergman from Adorama shares helpful instructions on how to capture soft light using flash bounce or a white flash card:

The main aspect to remember with camera flash is that the light gets softer as the relative size of the light source gets bigger. For example, a small flash with a strong, narrow beam of light concentrates its harsh light on a subject. On the other hand, a larger industrial headlight splashes soft light over a greater surface area. The light size is considered relative, because it also depends on how close you are to the subject you’re capturing. The closer you are, the brighter and harsher the light will be.

white wall flash photography

If you’ve already purchased a speed light and are having difficulty dealing with harsh light, then these adjustments should do the trick.

The first solution asks that you position your subject adjacent to a bright white wall. Point the flash at the wall to bounce the light off of it onto your subject, effectively increasing the surface area and reducing the light harshness.

ceiling flash photography

For another quick fix, point the flash at the ceiling in a way that the light bounces down to create a soft, warmer wash on the subject. This mimics standard overhead lighting in a room but can be influenced by the photographer to a different effect. Instead of using a static light source, you can try different angles to emphasize the glow you’re looking for.

hand flash photography

Some flashes include a white flash card that you pull up to enhance the front light on your subject. Feel free to use this for lighting up your subject’s face and eyes to add color and warmth. If you find that the white card isn’t giving you enough front light, placing the palm of your hand upright above the card adds surface area and may induce a warmer color. Bergman advises using the white card and your hand in a time crunch when you need a quick flash adjustment for your next set of photos.

In the end, always remember the quick tricks that you can use to offset harsh camera flash. Using a white wall or ceiling to bounce light works well for projecting softer light onto your subject. Also, you can use a white card and your hand in a fast moving situation if you don’t have an umbrella or softbox.

The most fun part is influencing the light to see what the flash can do for you!

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