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What to do With The Flash Zoom Setting When Using Bounce Flash?

Published: 21/03/2017

Last week two readers asked what to do the zoom setting when using the lighting techniques described in The Essential Guide to Lighting Interiors by Scott Hargis.

Thierry in Guadeloupe (French West Indies) asked:

Is there a specific way to set flash zoom level when bouncing ? I know I have to try myself different setups but I would like to hear point of view of experimented photographers.

Scott's lighting technique involves bouncing the light from small flashes off walls, wall/ceiling joints to create large soft light that creates a minimum of shadows. Given that you want to create large soft lights there's not much point in zooming flashes any tighter than their widest settings. I doubt that the zoom setting has much effect when you are bouncing a flash off the wall. So just leave your flashes at their widest zoom setting.

After running the above answer by Scott, he pointed out that:

I’d advise AGAINST using the WAD when bouncing off a wall because the WAD is dangerous in that it can “squirt” direct, un-bounced light into your scene even when you think your flash is pointed completely the other direction. Then you’ll have these little hard shadows that will make you question your sanity!

There you have it, an answer from the man who wrote the book!

Larry Lohrman

4 comments on “What to do With The Flash Zoom Setting When Using Bounce Flash?”

  1. Not to contradict, but to expand on, Scott's point, I would recommend checking out his Lynda.com course in which he adjusts the zoom setting in the process of photographing a master bathroom. In the specific case at hand, as I recall, the flash was spilling too much on the wall on the way up to the ceiling where it was intended to be bounced. Adjusting the zoom allowed a more focused beam of light toward the ceiling, which fixed the spill issue, yet provided the light needed for the shot.

    At the risk of over-generalizing, I would say that the majority of the time, do NOT use the wide angle diffuser, and just leave the zoom at the widest setting. When the situation calls for it, "zoom" the flash.

  2. Here's my best recommendation for Canon Speedlite shooters (possibly the knock-offs, too)...

    The widest setting is actually wrong on the Canon flashes. When you flip the head up to bounce off the ceiling or the joint behind you, Canon flashes initially indicate WIDE or give you three dashed lines ---.

    Here's the thing - the bulb actually stays lower in the head when you do that and gives you a narrower, tighter and less even flash pattern.

    To truly achieve the widest and most even flash pattern possible, you can manually zoom the head to 20mm. That raises the flash bulb quite a bit to the top of the head and gives you the closest thing to a bare bulb with even pattern.

    Do not pull out or flop down the clear plastic wide angle diffuser onto the top of the flash head. That tends to direct and spill light forward through the front edge of the diffuser and will cast those small shadows that Scott mentioned.

  3. For me, it depends on two factors:

    1. How far away my bounce surface is
    2. How large I want the light source to be

    If I want to bounce off a high ceiling and my flash is handheld, I'll zoom all the way in to throw the light up there because speedlights don't have much power to spare. If I had a really powerful flash and wanted a nice soft light, I'd leave it zoomed out, but I don't have that luxury so I tend to zoom in as far as I can.

    For standard ceiling heights, I'll leave it zoomed out which still gives me a decent size light source. If I wanted a bit harder light, I'd either zoom in or move the flash closer to the wall/ceiling/whatever surface.

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