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How to Diffuse the Light From Your Built-in Flash for Portrait Photography

Welcome back. I hope the last lesson convinced you to try an external flash, but if you have to wait while you're saving up your money, or if you're just waiting for your new flash to come in the mail, here are a few little tricks that will get you by with your pop-up flash while you're waiting.

How to Diffuse You Flash for Portrait Lighting

In a previous lesson I said that the pop-up flash is way too small and it produces nasty, harsh shadows in portraits. Well, one thing you can try is to diffuse your pop-up flash.

In order to diffuse your pop-up flash, you want to place some sort of translucent material in front of your flash. You can buy actual diffusion filters from the photo store. This is one that I bought and it just comes in a pack of different weights of diffusion filters:

I've also seen a lot of people on the internet use different contraptions made of gallon milk jugs cut up and placed in front of the flash. I think the easiest way is to just take some thin paper or parchment paper, the same stuff that you bake with, and just cut off a little piece of it about this size:

And then all you have to do is turn on your camera, pop up your flash, grab a small piece of tape, like a painter's tape, and tape it in place.

Now when you go to take a photo, as you can see, instead of the tiny little flash, we have a little bit of a bigger flash.

Now it's not going to make a huge difference, but it's going to make some difference. Let's take one photo with just a straight flash and see how that looks.

That makes harsh shadows and a very shiny and kind of not a good looking picture. Let's try it with the wax paper.

I think the wax paper has made a pretty big difference. The harshness of light has definitely been reduced and the second photo is much more flattering.

Ceiling Bounce

Another way you can modify your pop-up flash is to bounce the light from your flash off of the ceiling. Bouncing light off the ceiling gives a very flattering light and it looks very natural. There are several ways you can do this. I've seen people put white business cards in front of the flash to bounce it up there. I've also seen products you can buy to bounce your flash off the ceiling.

The idea that makes the most sense to me has back in the food storage drawer in your kitchen, only instead of using wax paper, this time we're going to use a little piece of aluminum foil. Now, you just want to tear off maybe half a sheet of aluminum foil and maybe fold it in half, once or twice so it has a little bit of rigidity.

Form this around your flash like a snoot. You might also want to use a little bit of tape on this, too, just to hold it in place so it doesn't go flying off. What we want to do is we want to create a little space.

This flash is going to be firing straight forward. What we want it to do is bounce off of the shiny part of the aluminum foil up onto our ceiling and then down onto our subject. So if I show you this, now you can't see the flash at all.

And in fact, when it fires, it's actually not going to hit you from this direction. It's going to go up and it's going to come down.

Okay. Let's put our bounce flash to the test. First one with a straight flash, again.

Looks just like the last one. And now let's do one with our foil bounce card.

Again, I think we've made a significant improvement over the straight flash shot. The bounce card takes the harshness out of the photo, and it also adds a little bit of directionality to the light, which I really like.

I hope these couple of tricks will hold you over until you can get your hands on external flash.

In our next lesson, we're going to be leaving pop-up flashes behind and you will be learning how to balance flash and ambient light.

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