Instructables
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.

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

Picture of 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. 
etcmn8 months ago

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

Phil B (author)  etcmn8 months ago
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.
SaraDenver1 year ago
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
Phil B (author)  SaraDenver1 year ago
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. 
Bill WW1 year ago
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"?
Phil B (author)  Bill WW1 year ago
Bill,

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!
KD0SHI1 year ago
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.
Phil B (author)  KD0SHI1 year ago
That could not have been fun.
rimar20001 year ago
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.
Phil B (author)  rimar20001 year ago
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.
Phil B (author)  Phil B1 year ago
"I have not seen...," not "I have not seek...."
yopauly1 year ago
Thank you, Mr.B!!
Phil B (author)  yopauly1 year ago
You are welcome. Enjoy.
r_harris21 year ago
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!
Phil B (author)  r_harris21 year ago
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.
Phil B (author)  claudiopolis1 year ago
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.
Phil B (author) 1 year ago
I tried various diffusion methods, but the camera produced an over-exposure. I also like bounce flash because the light comes from several directions.
Ranie-K1 year ago
I usually hold some bubble-wrap in front of the flash -that diffuses it.