I am using a Nikon D3200 with SB-700 flash. Typically, when taking pictures indoors, I bounce the flash off the roof or the walls. However, I will soon be in a situation where the roof is too high to bounce and walls are too filled with stuff to bounce effectively.

What's the best way to take pictures of person/people in this environment? I have all the standard diffusers, etc. that come with the SB-700.

  • Define "too high". I've bounced my SB600 off a gymnasium height marquee roof with no discernible issues by setting the zoom to max, dial in +3 stops in the flash power and aiming carefully. If the D3200 supports CLS (not sure if they pulled it to save costs?) then you can get the SB700 off-camera without a fuss. Apr 5 '13 at 16:25
  • @James, the roof starts off at 2 story hight and almost goes at a 45 degree angle to the 3rd story
    – Danish
    Apr 5 '13 at 20:24

Bouncing is not the only option. It creates strong shadow under the chin, it is in fact much better than straight-on flash, but there are other alternatives.

Try to find a white wall or a white curtain, or a relatively white surface would do. For me, I consider bouncing off a white wall a much better option than bouncing off a white ceiling.

The light will be the size of the wall, and it will warp around the face much better because the light is shinning on the subject in all directions, not just from above (the case when you bounce off a ceiling).

Also, you can easily have your subject move closer/further away from the wall. The closer your subject is, the softer the light will appear. Obviously you do not have this control when bouncing off a ceiling.

If there is no white wall or surface, there are still a few things that you can do.

Take the flash off camera is a great thing to do, position it at an angle will give you a very dramatic photo. The shadow will still be harsh but at least the face is not as flat as straight-on flash and will look more dimensional.

Look out for light modifiers, they claim to be extremely useful in softening the light, but in fact they simply do not.

Say a flash head is the size of a deck of card. A light source so small will create harsh shadows, everybody knows.

Say you have a light source that is as big as a piece of A4 paper. Chances are, the light will still be pretty hard.

One very important thing to bare in mind is the distance between the light and the subject. If the subject is far away, even if the light is the size of a t-shirt, there will still be hard shadows.

If the light is 2 feet away from the subject's face, however, you will see a significant difference between using bare flash and using a light source that is the size of a t-shirt.

You want to bounce off a wall or ceiling because you get a massive 10 x 10 feet light source. Tiny light modifiers will never be able to match the softness of such a huge light. So do not expect it to create wonderfully soft light, it won't. It is an improvement, but not as big as what the packaging may claim it to be.

If you can find someone to hold a reflector for you (those giant 42 inches ones), bouncing the flash off the reflector is a good idea(and better than those tiny diffusers or omni-whatever). You can be very close to the subject (very important!) and you can control how high the light is.

If you can take your flash off camera (cable or wireless) then you can also use the reflector for some very good fill light.

If you don't like a reflector, or they are overpriced (I have seen a reflector costing US$60 before), you can get a piece of styrofoam. Go to a stationary store, get a piece as big as a small table for only $1. It is white, it is light and sturdy and can be easily cut into any shape and sizes. Only downside is it cannot be folded.

I have had my subject hold the giant piece of styrofoam (3 x 4 feet or so) for some fill light and the result was quite good. Can be a solution when you do not have an assistant.


While it won't be exactly the same as a wall or ceiling† bounce, you can move the flash off camera and make it significantly bigger without moving it off camera. Something like the Lumiquest Big Bounce will make the light source quite a bit bigger and softer, while elevating the light source enough that pictures taken at typical portrait distances will have some modelling.

I say "something like" because the actual Lumiquest unit is kind of expensive and really pretty heavy—it will easily tilt a flash that doesn't have a tilt lock, and it puts a lot of stress on the flash foot and hot shoe. It's actually something you can easily create yourself out of foamcore or poster board and attach to the flash with a rubber band for a couple of bucks, and while it won't be nearly as durable, it will be both much cheaper and much lighter.

Another alternative is to use a flash bracket and a softbox. I'm speaking of something in the Westcott Mini Apollo or the Photoflex LightDome XS range. At about 12"x16" to 16"" square, they're not exactly a seven-foot octobank, but they are huge compared to a bare speedlight, and a decent (and not too expensive) flash bracket will get them far enough off camera to give some modelling. (And there are cheap knock-offs available if the price hurts too much.)

If you don't have an assistant and are comfortable shooting one-handed, there's also an arrangement like the Lastolite Brolly Grip to consider. Again, the "real deal" might be a bit expensive for what it is, and you can assemble other people's parts or do a DIY version of the actual grip and just pay for a cheap mini umbrella. (In fact, you may find a suitable translucent white child's umbrella at your local deep-discount emporium/dollar store.) It'll work best with an SC-29, which has a 1/4"-20 nut on the bottom, so anything you can stick a 1/4"-20 screw out of will work as a handle.

Those are just a few options to chew over if you need to be mobile. If you're shooting in a fixed location, you've always got the option of bringing your own wall or ceiling—a large pop-up reflector (or a sheet of foamcore) on a bracket on a light stand (again, that doesn't have to mean using the official, photo-certified version) or a V-flat is always an option.

† Does it bother anyone else that ceiling is spelled/spelt the way it is? We stole it from French before fitting the ing attachment to indicate its smallness compared to the real sky, and there it's spelled with an ie rather than an ei. That's probably something we Canadians are a little more sensitive to than most, I suppose.

  • Hi Stan, I really appreciate your answer and link to the various accessories you mentioned. Its my fault that I didn't mention that I'll be taking pictures in a casual gathering setting and was looking for more practical solutions that wont cost too much. However, I'm pretty sure I'll be referring to your answer quite a lot once I try taking a portrait in a more controlled environment.
    – Danish
    Nov 20 '12 at 14:53

By bouncing the light, you are trying to move the light source off the camera. Since the walls and ceiling are not cooperating, you'll have to actually move the SB700 off the camera. You can get a TTL cable for about $20. You then need something to hold the strobe. The cheapest is to put the flash on a monopole and have a helper hold it as you walk around.

  • Thanks Pat, so I take it that you think this would be better than pointing the flash directly at the subject with the SW-14H Diffusion Dome provided with the flash?
    – Danish
    Nov 19 '12 at 21:29
  • Yes, a diffusion dome simple bounces one to two stops of light off the walls and ceiling. It does not change the distance between the center of axis of the lens and the center of axis of the strobe. If you want DMV style photos, have the flash on-axis. I strongly suggest reading the strobist 101 series on strobist.com Nov 19 '12 at 22:38

I have had great success bouncing my flash (also an SB-700) off a piece of white foam core poster board, say 36"x48". These usually cost about $4 if purchased individually. They diffuse light from a flash excellently and also can give a very nice glint in the eyes of your subject. You may be able to hold it yourself, have an assistant do so, or prop it up against a stand, a piece of furniture, or even your camera bag. The pic below was shot at 1/60 sec. with a 40mm lens at f/5.6 on ISO-400 at about 1.5 ft, bouncing the light off the foam core board I described, which was propped up behind me and to my right against a chair. I increased the brightness, contrast, and vibrance modestly in post-process. enter image description here

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