My friends and I have observed that the act of using a flash in informal settings (for example, pictures of a Christmas party or a busy toddler) tends to draw attention to the photographer and thus disrupt the scene we were trying to capture. Because of this, I tend to avoid the flash (external or on-camera) and just try to get the most light I can. But these are exactly the sort of poorly lit, dynamic situations that you'd want a flash for! How do I resolve this Heisenberg-ian paradox?

(Edit: When I said "off-camera", I really meant "not the built-in flash", I have a Canon Speedlite 430EX 2. Thank you for answers which cover both of the types!)


4 Answers 4

  1. Bounce flash is much better, since it's less directly (and literally) in-your-face.
  2. Off-camera bounce flash is even better. If you're using a wireless radio system, that's probably best of all, but I actually have pretty good results using my camera's built-in optical TTL wireless (I suppose since it's less powerful than a full flash burst), particularly when combined with:
  3. Start shooting early and do it often; people will get used to it and start ignoring you.
  • \$\begingroup\$ So you are saying you are easily ignored... hehe \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 20:46
  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ @dpollitt: that's a very useful ability for a photographer. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 20:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have been learning how to work my new bounce flash (and discovering that my living room ceiling is more off-white than I'd realized). Assuming a good surface to bounce from, for my purposes I think you're saying that as long as I'm not flashing someone directly in the face, the flashes can blend into the background of the party (eventually)? \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael H.
    Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 17:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @khedron: yeah, that. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Sep 28, 2011 at 19:31

I use off-camera flash. Position them in corners of the room, pointing at the ceiling. This gives you room filling flash, and while noticeable, it is not very annoying as it is not pointing at anyone. I get no complaints.

I find it works best with either Cactus triggers (ebay triggers) or in my case a Canon ST-E2. (Commander mode for Nikon is similar)

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 — I was just editing my answer to include this. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 17:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Commander mode and such isn't quite the same, since it requires more line of sight. \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 0:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Commander mode is the similar to ST-E2, which is Canon's light based TTL off camera flash system. \$\endgroup\$
    – cmason
    Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 1:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you're using an optical triggering system, don't forget to get something like the SG-31R. Dirt cheap, and will help keep your triggering flash from affecting the photo or drawing attention to you. \$\endgroup\$
    – Evan Krall
    Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 7:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ YES! Exactly what I was going to write. \$\endgroup\$
    – AJ Finch
    Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 12:32

I find it easiest to work with an on-camera TTL flash bounced from ceiling or wall so that the bounce area is at my side. Compared to off-camera flash, it has the advantage of always being out of sight, under control and near enough. I usually zoom the flash into a narrower beam so the light becomes more directional. To avoid hitting anyone in the eyes with flash and keep direct flash from spilling into frame, I use something similar to Neil van Niekirk's black foamie thing. That already makes me pretty invisible, because nobody sees the flash coming from me, it seems to be somewhere nearby.

Of course, this technique can only be used indoors where color and distance of bounce surface is suitable.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Zooming the flash to a narrower beam... interesting, I'll have to read up on that. Thank you also for the link to the black foamie thing! It looks pretty silly, but a lot better than flashing people! \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael H.
    Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 17:16

Use a Speedlight or similar type flash, that allows you to angle the flash and bounce the light off the ceiling. This has the effect of spreading the flash all around the room and diffusing it. Although everyone still notices the flash they are not drawn to its source so you become far less of a focus. Also the more you use the flash the more everyone will get used to it and end up ignoring it completely. One thing to note with this technique is make sure its a cream or white ceiling because coloured ceilings will introduce a colour cast in your shot. if the ceiling colour isn't good then try a diffuser on the flash itself to spread the light around, not as good as bouncing but better than a bare flash.

The other benefit of bounce flash is that you will get much better lighting without shadows behind your subject making them look like cut-outs with shiny faces in the finished images.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I've been playing with both bouncing the flash, and using a diffuser. I think I need to get my wife to try taking the pictures, so I can see what it's like to be on the other end of it. I know my 18-month-old daughter tends to squint and then run towards the camera whenever the flashes start coming, but perhaps she can get used to it too. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael H.
    Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 17:18

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