On Assignment: Hiding Your Flash in Windows

When shooting interiors, we often use flash to bring the inside light level up to that of the outside scene. But that solution can also cause a bright reflection of your strobes (or mods) in the windows, a nonstarter for an interior shot.

Today, three quick tips for solving that problem.

Easiest: Position Your Lights to Hide the Reflections

The easiest solution is also the one I use the most often.

I made the photo above while documenting the home of our town founder, James Rouse, who had died in 1996. His wife recently passed away, so the Columbia Archives wanted a record of the interior spaces. Not so much a real estate brochure; more of a visual record.

As such, I brought a couple of speedlights on stands and worked my way through the house making a fairly quick series of photos.

This was done by blasting two SB-800's into the ceiling, one on each side, to bring the room up to outdoor ambient level. The lights do not appear in the windows (except for a small gradient up top center right) because of where they are aimed.

To do this, you need to position yourself to where you would not be able to see the ceiling in a window reflection. It is easy to do, and fits the bill for quick shoots like this one without people as subjects. And even in extreme cases like above with a wall of windows, it works well.

But what if you are shooting an interior portrait, where ceiling light might not work for your subject?

Three-Way Dance: Use Your Subject to Hide the Reflections

Sometimes the thing that causes your problem can also be a solution. If you subject is fairly near to the camera, they can block a lot of space in which a flash can appear in a window.

Simply light your subject, and then position your camera so where the subject blocks the area of the window where the reflection is happening. You may have to adjust one of the three variables to make it work (camera/light/subject position) but this is almost never a problem.

In fact, you can also combine the two techniques into one solution. Use fill light off of the ceiling to bring the room up to a stop or two below outdoor ambient, then grid your subject to make them pop in the scene. (A gridded light is nice and small — much easier to hide in a window than an umbrella or soft box.

But what if you absolutely have to position your light somewhere that will cause a reflection that you won't be able to hide?

The last technique is a little more complex, but it allows you to have your cake and eat it, too.

Fix it Later: Double-Tap to Make Your Flashes Disappear

You'll need a tripod and Photoshop for the never-fails-no-matter-what solution.

First, compose your shot and position your subject. Lock your camera down on a tripod. Now light the room/subject any way you want.

When you shoot, double-tap the scene — one with flash and one without. If your flash recycles slowly, you may be able to do this by just firing two shots fast on full-speed continuous. If your flash is fast, you will have to turn off your trigger for the second shot.

Now, you have an identical scene for each image in which the flash is not firing. Which means the ambient coming through the window is clean.

Just copy and paste the entire flash image on top of the no-flash image in Photoshop, and auto-align the two layers. Next, just "erase" the flash in the window to reveal the perfectly aligned, same-exposure no-flash scene beneath it.

Works like a charm. One thing I would suggest: you probably don't want your subject to be partially obscuring a flash reflecting in the window. It's not a total deal-breaker, but it would just make the Photoshop work tricker.

Next: Actress Samantha McEwen


Brand new to Strobist? Start here | Or jump right to Lighting 101
Connect w/Strobist readers via: Words | Photos

Comments are closed. Question? Hit me on Twitter: @Strobist


Blogger Fenix Fotography said...

Thanks, David. I've used a couple of these techniques, but definitely learned a trick or two. I recently purchased a couple of Edison mounted strobes that I'm hoping I can hide in lamps right in the scene. Was curious if you've ever tried using them for that purpose.

June 14, 2012 8:28 AM  
Blogger marco said...

I thought it was *your* home :p

June 14, 2012 8:59 AM  
OpenID schultzphotographic.com said...

Very helpful post! Thanks!!

June 14, 2012 9:36 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

I like that photo and the photoshop trick is simple yet very effective. Thanks for the valuable info.

June 14, 2012 10:12 AM  
Blogger Rueben said...

Love the ever evolving photo lingo.. I can now safely use 'double tap' when on a location shoot. Useful post as always!

June 14, 2012 11:24 AM  
Blogger Dylan said...

One of the things that I always weigh when eveluating the lighting of interiors is wether I am divirging from the original feel of the existing light. I usually start with a base shot with the existing light and then work towards tweaking added lighting towards the original intent of the designer. Then I may go in and produce a few texture masks or light unlit areas if I feel it necessary. I most often can't position the lights to avoid reflections without compromising composition or lighting so I always create a mask for the windows. It makes everything else easier and better from the get go.

June 14, 2012 11:45 AM  
Blogger Wolfgang Kratky said...

Thanks for that post. I had to deal which such a situation some weeks ago and I love to have these techniques in my photo-bag now.

btw, I had to read the introduction three times because I didn't get "town founder" and "died in 1996" together. Vienna, Austria here, and i don't feel my town is old (only about 2.000 years, which is very young compared to Rome, Athens, Cairo, Jerusalem, ...)

June 14, 2012 2:27 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


We were not born as a normal town. We were sort of a "test tube baby" ...


June 14, 2012 2:36 PM  
Blogger Monty Chandler said...

With the lighting that appears available in that room, why would a flash be required at all? A 5 shot HDR image would provide excellent natural results..

June 14, 2012 3:17 PM  
OpenID maliacampbellphotography said...

You should check out Scott Hargis' video series. He has an entire episode devoted to this subject.


June 14, 2012 3:19 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


(a) 'Cause this isn't HDRist, and
(b) 'Cause most HDR photos creep me out just a little...

June 14, 2012 3:26 PM  
Blogger Mike Kelley said...

@Monty: You can't control the light with HDR. And since adding and controlling light is arguably the single best way to improve the look of interior photography (and most forms of photography for that matter), that would be the way to go.

Look at the beautiful, contrasty image that David created - plenty of detail, from shadows to highlights - HDR would just yield a muddy mess.

June 14, 2012 3:30 PM  
Blogger Sodabowski said...

I can guarantee, for having used all three techniques, that it also works on MacOS.

* whistles with a grin *

June 14, 2012 10:39 PM  
Blogger Benjamin Geiger said...

Hiding your flash in Windows:

Right-click on your flash, choose "Properties", and make sure the "Hidden" checkbox is on.


Seriously, I thought the first method would be to use a gobo (I guess you use the subject as a gobo...)

June 14, 2012 11:28 PM  
Blogger CarlyCrosby said...

Such good advice! I am always worried about this issue! Thanks!

June 15, 2012 1:08 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

I think I've seen the "double-tap" trick before. Isn't there a post about using it to get your flash closer to your subject (maybe even in the frame) and then erasing it later?

June 15, 2012 1:19 AM  
Blogger Leo said...

I was thinking you were going to go all Joe McNally and have a flash outside the building firing through the window... but thats a solution to a different problem.

June 15, 2012 4:24 AM  
OpenID Simon said...

And there is the double polarizer method that also hides the flash – nearly :) Not so different from this one.

June 15, 2012 7:53 AM  
Blogger Scott Hargis said...

David - nice work, although the comp makes me feel a little claustrophobic.

@ Monty -- HDR would not yield the same result. I hear this all the time...as if HDR makes lights un-necessary.
If you could somehow get a model to sit perfectly still through 4 or five exposures, would you then throw away your lighting gear? Of course not. Key light, hair light, separation light, background light, rim light, catchlights.....you can HDR the crap out of someone but none of those things will be there. And unless you are VERY good indeed, neither will the contrast. ;-)

Interiors work the same way.

@ Simon -- polarizers can help, but the example you cite is studio work, where everything is at close range. A polarizer will cut up to 2 stops from your exposure, which means your lights will be working 4 times harder. In practice...doesn't work.

There are lots of ways to approach this kind of thing. David did a good job laying out the basics, here.

June 15, 2012 3:03 PM  
Blogger jniz22 said...

i am having a bit of a conundrum and I'm hoping someone has some ideas "cough" david "cough".

Just today I was asked to come be a second photographer for a fashion shoot on the top level of a 5 star hotel. The other photographer shoots all natural light and wants me to bring my lights to add a different feel. The windows and where we will be shooting in this bar/lounge more or less make a pyramid and we will be shooting in one of the corners. I initially thought ... snooted rim light and orbis ring flash off camera for fill. We have 2 hours and I'm really nervous :P does anyone have any ideas? My main plan will be to block the light with the subject. help!

June 18, 2012 7:54 AM  
Blogger Martin Beebee said...

Another trick to consider is (if possible) open the window (or sliding glass door) that your flash is reflecting in. Boom.

(Thanks to Scott Hargis for that one.)

June 19, 2012 1:05 PM  
Blogger 24x7 Homecare said...

I like that photo and the photoshop trick is simple yet very effective. Thanks for the valuable info.

June 19, 2012 1:31 PM  
Blogger Fenix Fotography said...

Another use for the Double Tap: I have six alien bee heads and a four cheaper Chinese-made lights that take much longer to recycle, esp at higher settings. When I shoot a portrait on white, use the ABs up front on the subject (set them low) and I light the background with the cheaper lights and double tap the shots, so that I can get one shot on white and one on gray basically simultaneously.

June 21, 2012 3:43 AM  
Blogger Leo Dj Photography said...

David, could you please put a chart/drawing where you put the lights in that room?
Do you aim straight up, at an angle, or to a corner where the walls meet?


July 08, 2012 6:11 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home