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How to Soften Up Harsh Flash Lighting

How many times have you taken a photo and regreted that you used the on camera flash? The result is glaring highlights, shiny foreheads, and beady eyes, from the powerful direct hit of the small built-in flash. In this post René Edde shares some tips on how to avoid this.

There are a few ways that you can soften up that flash and make it look more natural, even the tiny little built-in flash on a compact point and shoot camera. If you soften your on camera flash, or bounce it off the ceiling, you will take away the harsh hard-edged shadows.


1. Create a Bounce Card

A technique used by press photographers for years. Take a small white index card, tape or rubber band it below the flash so that it bounces the flash onto the ceiling and fills the room. This can be a bit more tricky with the little on-camera built in flash and may require some McGuyver-like duct tape technique. But the result is worth the work. You get a nice even fill to the light. How you create the card will depend on how your flash is built into your camera.

See the two photos (above and below). A white post-it note is a good way to create a bounce card on the go. You can see that I cut and modify one for the compact Canon G9 (above) or for my Canon 430EX Speedlite (below), just stick it on the front and go.


2. Make a Tissue Soft “Box”

Simply take a piece of tissue and put it over the flash on your camera. If you prepare this in advance you can neatly tape it in place, but you can always turn this option into a grab and go technique. Grab a tissue or thin paper napkin and hold it over the flash, point and shoot. It works best if you use a double layer tissue or fold it in two. This softens the light of your flash in your photos, even though the light is still direct.

There are more expensive tools that you can buy to soften your flash. For your SLR add-on flash, I highly recommend the Gary Fong flash diffuser systems.

With any of these techniques you may need to play around with the settings on your camera a bit. In essence you may need to trick your camera into the right exposure. With all of the automatic functions of cameras these days, you need to learn how to out smart the auto functions.

?It could be as simple as fidgeting with the exposure modes or overexposing the photo by a half to a full stop. This is going to vary based upon the camera and the model that you have. Try different techniques in the same scene and see what works best for your camera.

Think of these techniques as making a little lampshade for your camera flash. Try either of them or fiddle around with techniques of your own. The key is to spread out and diffuse the light and to bounce it off of something more broad than your camera flash (like an entire ceiling).

Just remember if you have a ceiling that isn’t white, or use a paper or card that isn’t white, that color will effect the color of the light and will tint your entire photo.

Recommended Reading: 7 Strategies for Avoiding Flash Blow Out

René Edde is a freelance photojournalist based in Chicago, IL. When René isn’t shooting on assignment for newspapers or working with local and international non-profits on documentary stories, you can find her teaching English to Tibetan monks in Nepal. You can see more of René’s work at her website and her adventures on her blog.

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