Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Coming up with a bounce flash hack for my digital point-and-shoot at Indian Lake County Park

St. Mary of the Oaks
On the brow of a hill, one half-mile east overlooking Indian Lake, rests a tiny stone chapel. The structure was built in 1857 by John Endres in fulfillment of a religious vow he made in return for protecting the lives of his family during a diptheria epidemic. Aided by his son Peter, Endres hauled several tons of stone to the hilltop with an ox team. -- Dane County Historical Society, 1963

On Memorial day we took the short drive from Madison to Indian Lake County Park and hiked up the hill to the old chapel, which is celebrating its sesquicentennial this year. The birch trees, unusual in this part of the state but flourishing on the cool north side of the hill, glowed in the late afternoon sun.

Inside the tiny, 150-year-old chapel nestled between the trees at the summit, we saw the altar, which is a lot newer than the chapel. Naturally I wanted to photograph it. But there was a problem. It was too dark in the dimly-lit chapel to shoot without flash (or a time exposure, but there was no place to brace the camera for a self-timer shot). I really don't like to use flash, and I certainly didn't want to overpower the scene before me with a head-on blast of light, with all the harsh shadows that would produce. The situation called for bounce flash, but on most point-and-shoots, including mine, the tiny flash heads are built-in and don't swivel. The cameras don't do bounce flash.

Or do they? Necessity being the mother of invention, I tore a little piece of paper from my pocket notebook and propped it in front of the flash, aimed at the ceiling. I held it with my middle finger while pressing the shutter with my index finger.

This is the result. The homemade bounce flash did indeed cast a lovely, soft light -- and one that, appropriately for the subject, came from above. It also produced what looks like a celestial aura hovering above the figure of Mary. It made for an unusual visual effect, but not somethng I would want in every photo. My point-and-shoot bounce flash technique seemed to require further reasearch and development.

To which I devoted part of my day today. I could see that the flare in the photo had been caused by some of the light from my improvised bounce card had reflected back into the lens. I could see that I needed a second reflector between the card and the lens (cameras with the lens mounted lower than the flash wouldn't have this problem) -- something simple I could keep keep taped inside the plastic baggie that holds my spare battery and card, something that could just be taped to the front of the camera when needed. Just fold it into position, maybe with a little finger pressure if necessary.

Here it is. It's still not perfect. There's still some point-source light bouncing off the front of the camera, so the net effect is a combination of direct and indirect light. But it's better than nothing, and I can keep tinkering. Maybe the front part of the reflector needs to be higher... Anyhow, I thought I'd post it in case it inspires someone to come up with something better.


Pat J said...

Saw this on flickr. Interesting idea...

What if you glued white paper to some black construction paper, then used the white side to bounce the flash, and the black to block more light from the lens?

I think I might have to try this hack. I don't like using flash much, but sometimes you just can't get the shot w/o it.

Madison Guy said...

Great idea. I was going to try something like that when I got a minute -- especially as I'm now keeping the little gizmo taped to my camera, folded flat, all the time. Looks weird, but it's handy.