Last weekend I was at a local park with my son for Easter Egg Hunt. While I was waiting in the crowd, I noticed two guys with DSLR camera and flash mounted on top. Since I have a habit of taking pictures of other photographers at work, I quickly snapped a picture as shown below. It turned out to be quite interesting.
The photo above was taken using the AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8. A zoomed-in view of the above photo showed the interesting ways they decided to use their flash outdoors.
Apparently one of them decided to point the flash straight forward with a Omni Bounce (the white plastic cap) mounted while another one pointed the flash upwards at an angle with the built-in bounce card pulled out.
If you are careful observer, you may also find that one guys is shooting Canon while another is shooting Nikon. Did the brand of camera/flash determine the way they decided to use the flash outdoors?
They were using the flash as if they were trying to do bounce flash. The problem is, there is no reflecting surfaces in open outdoor environment to bounce the light.
The Omni Bounce cap is used to create a so-called Diffused Bare Bulb Effect. Instead of producing light output in a forward cone, the Omni Bounce cap spreads the light in all directions. It works well in a room with cells and walls because the light can be bounced from many directions. In open air, it offers little benefits but wastes the energy because the translucent cap can cut more than a stop of light.
Some flash units, such as Nikon SB-900 AF Speedlight Flash, have a built-in bounce card that can be used to create a highlight in the subject in bounce flash photography. In this case, there are just so many problems: First of all, this should really be used for portrait with people looking directly at the camera. Secondly the angled flash is simply a waste of light output because there is no way to bounce the light.
I am also curious if they are aware of the sync speed limits of their cameras. DSLR cameras have sync speed typically in the range of 1/200 second. In outdoor shooting, this may be challenged because the strong light. They are either forced to shoot very small apertures, use a neutral density filter to cut down the light, or use so-called high speed sync function (explained here). All of these options will severely limit the maximum effective flash distance. Their intended bounce setups can only make it worse.
Keywords: Flash photography, Outdoor Flash