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 to…
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.