Direct and Indirect Flash

Flash photographs’ effects can vary greatly. A significant cause for this is the different impact direct or indirect flash photography can have.

For a direct flash, a small reflector creates hard light. If the flash is on or directly atop the camera, it causes a relatively flat illumination. It creates an illumination that should be avoided if possible due to its aesthetic effect.

For an indirect flash the flash’s reflector is pointed towards an available surface of area (usually a wall, ceiling). The light of the entire surface area illuminated by the flash is reflected which results in a larger radiating surface (compared to the flash’s reflector). The reflected light casts a soft light. For an indirect flash, a flash unit with reflectors mounted on a swivel mechanism is required. At the same time, the light used for capturing the image is wasted because the illuminated surface absorbs a certain amount of the light and also illuminates some areas that are not visible in the photograph. Therefore flashes with high guide numbers are essential.

Indirect flashes can cause eyes to appear dark, flat and lifeless.  Therefore many flash units are equipped with a white panel that can be placed behind the reflector (a diffusing panel for wide angle images can also be used). If this panel is positioned to point towards the subject person, the light is reflected in their eyes and small bright reflexions appear in their eyes. The people in the image appear to be more alive and undesirable under eye circles are reduced.

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