Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bouncing light off the ground

The idea of lighting a subject from below sounds unnatural and impractical except to make the subject look scary.  However, in some cases, it works under circumstances where other techniques don't.

This past weekend I experimented with upside down lighting by bouncing light from the ground. Upside down light is not the first lighting scheme I think of unless I want to do a "scary" photo.  But it just so happened that while our toddler was getting a haircut this weekend, he would look downward from time to time to avoid the scissors. I then remembered Joe McNally use upward light as fill in one of the bridal portraits in the Nikon video "A Hands-On Guide to Creative Lighting."

So I tried bouncing the light from the floor and got the shot at the top of this blog entry.  For comparison, here is a shot at a similar angle but with ambient light only:

In my view, the upside down light bounced from the floor was not off-putting in this case and was a reasonable choice for lighting.  Bouncing light from the floor is a technique to consider when there are no walls or ceilings to bounce from - all it takes is a reasonably light colored floor like sand or cement - like this shot at a playground, where I bounced the light from the sand.

Surprisingly, the bounced light showed up even though the shot was at ISO100 (shot was at f/2.8, 1/200, ISO 100, TTL flash triggered via CLS at 0 FEC). In fact in some shots, the bounced light was too prominent and I reduced it by as much as -0.7 FEC.

These are my observations for making floor-bounced light work:
1. Upside down light looks much better on the subject when it's soft (not hard).  In the real world, light rarely comes from below except in specific circumstances like a campfire.  However, upside down light does occur from time to time when there is a strong light from above that reflects from the ground.  When that happens, the upside down light is pretty soft because the floor is acting as the light source for the upside down light.
2. Bounce the light in front of the subject, not directly below the subject.  When the light is bounced directly below the subject, the shadows will be cast upward.  If the light is bounced in front of the subject, the shadows from the upside down light are less noticeable.
3. Floor-bounced light looks best when the subject's face is slightly lowered. This diminishes the upside down shadows.
4. To maximize your flash's power and efficiency, shoot at sync speed (if ambient is bright), and use the longest zoom for your flash.