Directional Lighting with On-Camera Flash

BounceDagram Buuuut Kerrrry..If you use your flash ON your camera (not your pop-up flash) you can’t get directional lighting, its going to look horrible. Well, yeah, and that’s why so many people don’t like to use flash or stick to being “natural light” shooters. In a podcast with Neil van Niekerk, Neil talked about bouncing the light to the left or right to create directional lighting. This created tons of emails asking for some more information on this so I decided to create a simple setup to demonstrate this concept.

With an accessory flash like a Canon 580 EX II the top piece can rotate around to different angles, this will allow the flash to fire in a different angle than the camera is facing. If you then bounce that light off something like a wall or reflector you can then redirect the light back at your subject to create good directional light. The only thing you have to really watch for is that you are blocking and light directly from the flash to contaminate the scene which can completely diminish the look you are trying to get.

IMG_2333 First let’s look at the flash configuration we are going to use. A 580 EX outfitted with Velco and then a Honl Photo Gobo to cover the bottom and right side of the flash head. This blocks direct light from the flash from hitting the subject but still allows some extra light to move up and left which will help add a little fill light. If we used a snoot, we wouldn’t have any extra fill light and the shadows would be much harsher.

The key to this working with such a simple setup is actually having things to bounce the light off of. Without walls and a ceiling that are close enough to effectively use as reflectors we might have to bring in our own reflectors to create the desired effect.

Let’s take another look at the lighting diagram.


The flash is mounted on the camera and is turned towards the wall aimed to hit a midpoint between the camera and the subject. This will illuminate the wall and act like new source of light angled back towards the subject giving us light that appears to come from the right side of the subject. Now let’s look at an example image to see exactly what this looks like.


As you can see, we have effectively created a short light setup by bouncing the light off the wall while also using a small amount of bounce light from surrounding walls and the ceiling to add a small amount of fill light to keep the right side of the subject from being completely black.

The point here is that learning how to use your on-camera flash to behave differently than simply blasting your subject with straight on lighting will open up your ability to create much better images. Experimenting will different distances, angles, and reflector surfaces and soon you will find that you can find useful locations and/or objects to use as your bounce target.


Kerry Garrison lives in Castle Rock, Colorado with his wife and two dogs. With 10 years of experience shooting products and 5 years of experience in the wedding industry, Kerry brings a good deal of technical know-how and can explain topics in easy-to-understand terms.

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6 Responses

  1. Jim Sugar says:

    Actually, the amount of light falling on the right (shadow) side of the subject's face is controlled by the shutter speed of the camera. If you had set the camera to Manual, you could have controlled the ratio between the strobe (highlight) side of the image and the shadow side by increasing or decreasing the shutter speed. There was probably little or no spill falling on the shadow side of the subject's face. But you could have controlled for it by changing shutter speed.

    • kgarrison says:

      Thanks Jim,
      There is certainly much more to lighting than described in this series of getting started articles. I am trying to give some beginners some quick tips to get them started and then keep building up from there with more advanced topics and tools. Thanks for the input.

  2. George Augustine says:


  1. May 12, 2010

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