How-to: 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.
So there are three simple ways to hide your flash in windows. Of course, if none of them work you can always go with a guaranteed-but-much-more-complicated way.