Today’s guest post is part 3 of a series of tutorials on how to light reflective subjects and surfaces from BorrowLenses.com. Alex Huff is a staff photographer and copywriter for BorrowLenses and has photographed for Sotheby’s, Google, X-Games, and more. In this post, she gives an effective tip you should practice over and over again to avoid glare and control shadows when photographing rooms.
All example images were lit and shot using the following:
All diagrams made with LightingDiagrams.com
Photographing the inside of a room is tricky because there are a lot of reflective surfaces and lots of little objects everywhere to create shadows. Rooms are usually too dark to depend on natural light alone so I am going to show you one major trick that will build your confidence while shooting flash indoors, whether you hope to shoot interiors exclusively or if you’re simply shooting your own home for a listing.
Here is the one major trick: Pretend that lighting the space directly is simply not allowed. This will help you speed up your problem solving. Bouncing light off ceilings, walls, and white reflectors produces softer light and once you start doing it you will be hooked.
For those very new to flash photography, bouncing light is simply facing the front of your flash toward something other than your subject. Remember that light travels in a straight line so if you aim your light toward something reflective, like a white wall, you can depend on that light to bounce back off that wall onto everything nearby.
Why photographers love this:
- Bouncing a flash off of a large, white surface makes the light spread further and appear bigger than it is.
- Because of this spread, the light appears softer and more flattering.
- White boards or reflectors tend to be more portable and less expensive than giant softboxes and can often produce similar effects.
Examples of Bounced Light in the Home
In any home, the bathroom will probably be your most difficult room to shoot because of its size, the dominant mirror, and reflective shower door. You probably won’t even be able to get a flash inside without seeing it in the mirror.
Here is what it looks like when I try to light the room with the flash directly:
The light skirts well off of the mirror without causing a reflection but the hot spots and shadows are distracting.
Here is the same scene when I bounce my flash off of a white door in the bathroom:
The shadows are much softer and almost completely gone while the frame of the mirror is much more evenly lit.
When Bouncing Bites Back
Before you start thinking that bouncing light is a fool-proof practice, you still have to consider your Family of Angles. Even light that is bouncing off of something will produce a reflection or glare if you are shooting in the line of fire.
A review of the Family of Angles:
Whether bounced or direct, the Angle of Incidence = Angle of Reflection. If you are getting a reflection, it means that that your camera is pointed toward exactly where the light is hitting and bouncing back into the lens. Every light source produces a Family of Angles and you will want to make sure your camera isn’t placed on the receiving end of it.
Keep your camera out of the danger zone by thinking about where the light is hitting and where you predict it will bounce back. Keep your camera away from the area where the predicted bounce-back is. Your other options are to:
- Move your light.
- Change your lens.
- Change your light modifier.
In the example of my bathroom, using my door to bounce my light produced nice, soft light for a closeup shot. However, when I use a wide lens to capture the entire room I am now catching a reflection in my shower door! There are also some hard shadows coming from the toilet that I didn’t have to worry about in my prior shot.
The bathroom is too small for me to change where my camera is pointing and I can’t change anything about my door. I also must use my wide angle to capture the entire room so my only option is to change the position of my light.
I used a simple foam board you can get from a craft store and a light stand to bounce my light on. It is positioned high enough to miss the shower door but still producing enough scattered light to kill off harsh shadows.
There is definitely some fine tuning to be done, especially since I didn’t stage this scene, but this lighting tactic will get you off to a very good start – especially if you’re trying to graduate from on-camera flash.
You can use this method for every room in your house.
In this example of one portion of the living room, I simply pointed my flash straight at the scene. Unsightly shadows abound.
Practice this for awhile on everything you do. This works great for the following subjects:
- Interiors, as demonstrated.
- People. Learn more about the benefits of bouncing flash here.
- Family gatherings, especially if you’re stuck trying to take a family portrait in a tight space with unruly relatives and not much time. Don’t set up a whole lighting rig – just bounce the flash you have!
- Products, especially when paired with a lot of diffusion.
I hope this gets you out of the shadows and onto the path toward creating more pleasing images! Be sure to check out the other two parts of this series, Glare Aware: Photographing Portraits of People in Glasses and The Art of Copy Work: Photographing Artwork Accurately Without Glare.