Bounce Flash Means Better Instructables





Introduction: Bounce Flash Means Better Instructables

About: I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making and repairing just about everything. I am enjoying posting things I have learned and done since I got my first ...
Photography means writing with light. It is not about a great camera, but about understanding and manipulating light. Bounce flash is a good way to produce pleasing lighting for Instructables photos and for other purposes. It can also be easy to do.

The photo shows my old Pentax digital camera. The photo was lit by bounce flash and has a pleasing, natural look. It is not cropped or edited in any way. (I did reduce the file size for uploading.) Many people use point-and-shoot cameras like this. The flash is fixed and cannot be pointed upward. This Instructable will show how to make and use a simple bounce flash reflector for cameras like this.

All photos in this Instructable were made with bounce flash, except for the second photo in this introduction. It was made with direct flash to illustrate the difference between a bounce flash photo and a direct flash photo.

  • Sheet aluminum from an old automobile license plate
  • 1/4 inch x 20 thd. screw
  • Wingnut
  • White paper
  • Marking pen
  • Tin snips
  • File
  • Drill

Step 1: Make Paper Pattern

Take note of where the socket for the tripod mounting bolt is on the bottom of the camera. Position the camera accordingly on a piece of white paper. Sketch around the base of the camera. Sketch a reflector and a support for the reflector that connects the reflector to the base portion.  See the text boxes. The reflector attachment should not block the sensors that focus the camera lens and adjust the exposure. This camera has a blackened window between the viewfinder and the shutter button where the sensors are located. 

Step 2: Cut the Pattern

Cut out the paper pattern with a scissors. 

Step 3: Transfer the Pattern and Cut the Aluminum

I flattened an old automobile license plate with a hammer and transferred the paper pattern to it with a marking pen. I used a tin snips to cut the aluminum for the bounce flash attachment. Notice the tab I left on the back side of the camera. Bend the tab up. It keeps the aluminum piece from rotating away from the camera. See the text box. 

Step 4: Bend, Fit, and Drill

Bend the aluminum to fit the camera as planned during the pattern sketching. The portion that actually reflects the light should be at about a 45 degree angle away from the flash, but this does not need to be very precise. File where necessary to make the aluminum accessory fit the camera better. Mark the location for the tripod mount hole and drill. 

Tripod mounting screws are 1/4 inch and 20 threads per inch. The ideal would be to have a mount screw precisely the correct length. An easy alternative can be seen in the photo. I used a longer 1/4 x 20 screw and threaded a wing nut onto it.  I screw this longer screw into the tripod mount socket until it bottoms out. Then I snug the wing nut up to the camera bottom. 

Step 5: Results

This photo was taken with the bounce flash adapter shown in this Instructable. Most photography for an Instructable is close-up. I used my camera's macro feature to get as close as possible. That also accentuates the object I want to show and minimizes distracting details in the background. Details in the background can be further minimized by keeping them as far from the camera as possible so they become blurred.

Step 6: The Set-up

Bounce flash is not problem free, but its problems can be minimized or eliminated. The area where the photos are taken is as important as the bounce flash reflector. 

The photo shows a corner area in our house with white walls and a white ceiling of normal height from the floor. The white surfaces surrounding me as I take a photo function a lot like a light tent. The light from the flash is soft and comes from multiple directions. 

There is an optimal distance for using bounce flash. If you are too close, shadows on the front and lower parts of the subject will be heavier. This can be a real problem with human faces and heavy shadows in the eye sockets. If you are too far away, the photo will be dark and will need to be lightened considerably in editing software to look good. Also, you can see a band of bright light across the top of the photo in this step. Some light spilled over the top of the bounce flash accessory. I need to enlarge the size of the actual reflector portion of my accessory. I will fit a larger piece of aluminum over it.

I find bounce flash works best if I use the display screen on the back of the camera rather than the viewfinder to compose the photo. If I use the viewfinder, some of the light that should have reached the ceiling will be absorbed or redirected by my forehead and hair. Light from bounce flash does tend to come from above. The lighted detail you want on the front of an object can be improved by pointing the camera slightly downward and making the photo slightly from above. But, that may also alter the way the light is distributed in the photo. Make extra exposures.  

Step 7: For a Flip-up Flash

I prefer to use my newer Kodak z710 camera when making my Instructables. Its flash flips up. I may one day make a bounce flash accessory that bolts to the bottom of the camera, but I have been using a smaller, simpler bounce flash attachment I keep in place with a strip of masking tape. It is not elegant, but it works. The first photo shows the attachment held in place with masking tape. The second photo shows another view of the attachment removed from the camera. This bounce flash attachment was also made from a piece of an old license plate.

Bounce flash works very well with small objects, especially with a few precautions and the simple accessory for your camera shown in this Instructable. Bounce flash gives results that look very much like natural room light, but without the risk of camera shake from long hand-held exposures.



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    Thanks for explaining this and for the ible reflector. Flash glare has often been a problem for me when taking pictures for ebay.

    1 reply

    I do also like the soft and even light that comes from a window or a garage door opening that faces north (in the Northern Hemisphere). Also, try photographing your eBay items in outdoor light in the 30 minutes before sunrise or the 30 minutes after sunset. Photographers call those the golden hours. Many automobile commercials and photos are filmed during those time slots. It may or may not be appropriate to your items. Thanks.

    Very nice article and very innovative if I must say. The logic behind was superb. I wonder how come I didn't came up with that idea earlier. Great job. Now I can get better snaps altogether. Flooring Contractor

    1 reply

    Sara, Thank you for your comment and for looking at this. I followed your link to see your eleven flooring project photos. You are doing architectural interior photography. Bounce flash like I described here might be useful for some photos. The problem with architectural interior photography is that each location provides its own challenges. It appears some of your photos are illuminated from natural light entering through windows or glass walls. Bounce flash might be useful to you as a fill light to soften shadows while the main light is still from windows or an entire wall of glass. To do a really fine job you may want a camera with full manual controls and a removable flash that can be mounted away from the camera or even fired with a slave trigger, perhaps several flash units synchronized by remote slave triggers to fire simultaneously. All of those things require a hefty initial purchase price, time to learn how to make the light do what you want it to do, and extra time setting up each photo. Another possibility is painting with light. I tried to illustrate that in this Instructable. Unfortunately, varnished wood surfaces gave off some hot spots from reflections. Painting with light seems very mysterious, but someone dressed in black moving about the frame while pointing a floodlight away from the camera is more foolproof than one would expect. It also gives good control of the light with very low initial investment cost, perhaps other than a camera the shutter of which can be set to stay open for up to several minutes. (I am assuming you are interested in digital images rather than traditional photographic film.) Anyway, thank you again. 

    Nice idea, Phil.

    Just a few days ago I wanted to try bounce flash for photographing a project. I had aluminum foil handy, tried it with miserable results, including lght spill. I will try your method. I keep a small roll of aluminum flashing in the shop, may try that, will be better than foil!
    About your license plate material, do your flash photos now show the caption "Famous Potatoes"?

    1 reply


    Thank you for the comment. A big part if what works for me with my license plate bounce flash reflector is white walls and ceiling in a relatively small room area. I have been using bounce flash almost exclusively for my last ten or so Instructables. What were the walls and ceiling like where you made your exposures?

    The aluminum is available. It probably contributes to a slightly cool color temperature. I remember reading about someone using gold tone cloth inside an umbrella reflector in order to achieve a warmer color temperature. White card stock should make a good reflector, too. The aluminum is also easy to work and to form. But, something else could always be taped over the reflecting surface.

    Light spilling over the top is always a problem, unless the actual reflector rises quite high above the flash tube. I sacrifice the upper part of the frame and crop out light spill.

    I wondered if anyone would identify my old Idaho license plate. Good job!

    I've played around w/ the flash on a camera and discharged the flash cap in my hand many times. Just thought of that now.

    1 reply

    That could not have been fun.

    Thanks for the idea, Phil.

    My cam does not allow flash in macro mode, but sometimes I need to take near photos (1m or so) and the flash is too strong, even in Soft mode.

    2 replies

    Bounce flash will help you. I am surprised your camera locks the flash out on the macro setting. I have not seek that on the very few cameras I have used. Given what you describe, you can crop your photo to make it appear the camera was closer. Of course, sharpness and image quality begin to suffer some damage.

    I like bounce flash in a small room because those two things make the light come from different directions and the photos do not look as if they were lit by one light right on the camera. Softening the flash may help a little, but the photos are still obviously taken with one light mounted near the lens.

    Have fun and experiment.

    "I have not seen...," not "I have not seek...."

    You are welcome. Enjoy.

    An instructable for making better instructables! Thanks for the tip; my first instructable (and some others in-process) suffered from just such problems with closeup and flash, and perhaps bounce flash will help my cheapie camera do a little better job on the next one!

    1 reply

    Thank you for looking and for commenting. I looked at your Instructable photos on the awl. If you wish, you can always go back and replace photos you wish to improve. It does happen that editors revisit old Instructables and feature some.

    Your photos are in sharp enough focus. Some of them appear to have been taken on a white background. That fools the camera's exposure system and shifts everything to a darker rendering. When there is a lot of white in a photo, you can avoid this problem by using the manual settings option if your camera has that feature. You would purposely shift the film speed (ASA rating) to a lower number, or open the f/number, or slow the shutter speed. Two "stops" in the direction of over-exposure should help a lot, that is, ASA 400 would become ASA 100, or f/5.6 would become f/2.8. A "stop" changes the exposure by a power of 2 either toward over-exposure or under-exposure depending on which way a change needs to be made. (Changing the setting from f/5.6 to f/4 doubles the amount of light reaching the image sensor. Going to f/2.8 doubles it again.) With the use of flash, changing the shutter speed would not have any effect because the duration of the flash is the effective shutter speed. You can also adjust the light/dark balance in your photo editing software, even if it is a simple free program like Picasa from Google.

    For a really simple bounce flash reflector, cut a strip of aluminum. Bend it at the middle so one end is bent away 45 degrees. Then tape it to the front of your camera so the bent portion is in front of the flash tube. The bolt-on version I showed will be easier to use long term.

    There have been a number of Instructables on making better Instructables related to many different aspects of making an Instructable. I searched the site for anything on bounce flash. There are lots of light tents and lots of flash diffusers, but no one had done anything on bounce flash.

    Another way to get pleasing illumination for your photos is to stand in the shadow area on the north side of a building (for the Northern Hemisphere) with your back to the North. The even indirect light works well with small objects. My garage opens to the North. If I move a car out of the garage and use the space at the door for my studio, I have the added advantage that almost everything inside the garage will be black in the final photo, which really highlights the subject of the photo.

    Once there was reason to avoid wasting exposures just to test something. With digital cameras there are no film and processing costs. Practice and experimentation become easy.

    I use a white paper napkin unfolded and placed in front of the flash, keeping as much distance from it as possible (while avoiding light spills on the sides of the napkin). The camera must be set on manual with longer exposure time. You can see the results in my instructables, especially the LED projector lamp v.2.

    1 reply

    There are diffusion methods that produce good photographs. The lighting is still obviously a single source originating very near to the camera. The shadow areas are often heavier and sharper. Try an opaque (not a translucent) bounce flash reflector in a small room with white walls and ceiling. Bounce flash tends to produce images of a lower contrast, but that is more of a concern with black & white images. And, you may need to adjust the light/dark balance in photo editing software. The highlights and the shadows are different with bounce flash and close white walls/ceiling than they are with any type of diffuser.

    I tried various diffusion methods, but the camera produced an over-exposure. I also like bounce flash because the light comes from several directions.

    I usually hold some bubble-wrap in front of the flash -that diffuses it.