Overexposure is a killer and a bit of a nuisance for filmmakers. It’s something we as filmmakers experience a lot, and by using “Bounce Lighting,” you can diffuse it. Turn an overexposed shot into an absolute masterpiece. 

Bounce Lighting - Key Tips and Techniques

Bounce lighting is an essential type of lighting and can be used as a standalone setup or a complimentary light setup to natural light or others. It’s perfect for diffusing light and should always be considered.

In today’s article on bounce lighting, we will look at what bounce lighting is, why you should use it and the top tips when using bounce lighting. 

Let’s get into it. 

What is bounce lighting in Film?

Bounce lighting is a lighting technique that involves light from a light source being bounced off using fabric, a bounce board or walls onto a surface. This is used to diffuse the light, and by diffusing the light, it causes the light to spread over a much larger space evenly. 

You’ll see this technique in a soft lighting setup to help diffuse it. It’s also prominent when filming with natural light to help diffuse it and spread the light source over the subject evenly—creating a lovely soft feel that looks cinematic on camera.

What can be used to create bounce lighting in film?

This is a question we get often. It doesn’t have to be an expensive setup at all. Honestly, you can use your bed sheets if they’re white enough. 

There are a couple of objects you can use to bounce light effectively. Here are a few things you can use in your bounce light setup: 

  • Reflector board
  • Light/white bedsheets
  • Clothing 
  • Fabric
  • Light walls
  • Ceilings
  • Bounce card

These will all allow you to direct and bounce your light source evenly, giving you the cinematic finish you’re looking for.

Why should I use bounce lighting?

Bounce lighting
New York Photography Institute

There are many reasons for using bounce lighting. It can be a solution to a lighting setup or just a shot composition preference. Here are a few reasons why you should use bounce lighting.

It diffuses the light.

Using bounce lighting helps you diffuse the light source.  

Diffusing the light means that the lights scatter as if it’s not coming from a direct light source. The diffusion of light allows you to shoot a scene with evenly spread light. 

It’s commonly seen in High Key Lighting setups, and Natural Light Setups in which diffusing the light source spreads it more evenly and allows for a softer setup.

Diffusing the light gives you a soft image and is perfect for shooting outdoors or in narrow, confined spaces.

A perfect partner to natural light

Bounce lighting is the perfect partner for natural light. It’s an indie filmmakers dream. It’s low cost and gives you an incredibly elaborate light setup that will elevate your scene to the next level. 

The bounce lighting setup allows you to control the natural light to spread it evenly on your subject and mould it to the scene. 

It softens the light, which enables you to use more natural light throughout the day. Sometimes you’ll be limited to the time of day in which you can use natural light to light up the shot due to overexposure and extreme contrasts. 

Use some light material or a bounce board, and you’ll be shooting with natural light like an expert in no time.

If you’re on a budget

Yep, if you’re on a tight budget or filming a low to no budget film, bounce lighting may be your go-to for your lighting setup. As above, we mentioned it’s the perfect partner when shooting with natural light. 

Creating a bounce board, using the material to bounce the light onto your subject, or even diffusing a current light source doesn’t have to be expensive. 

You can pick up light material to help bounce the light online on Amazon or your local fabric shop that will work wonders. Even popping to a hardware shop nearby will allow you to buy a board that will be able to bounce the light off correctly. 

Take a look around and see what you can find, but the most important thing is to ensure you have your shot set up correctly and have the light source agreed beforehand. Planning can be essential, especially when shooting with natural light. 

You need to make sure you have the correct timings to catch the perfect light setup!

You may also be interested in reading: Natural Light: How to shoot using Natural Light

Limited Space

Lighting setups can be very hefty and take up a lot of your space. You may be filming in a tight space or a narrow area, and a full light setup may not be achievable. 

However, you can still light the shot correctly using bounce lighting. Simply set up a key light pointing to the subject and any additional lights, which can be bounced over into the area using a bounce card or any other suggested material (See above). 

This will help you diffuse the light and light your scene professionally in a small, cramped space. You’ll be surprised how well this setup will come out.  

Top tips when using bounce lighting

Here are a few tips when using bounce lighting to ensure you optimise your setup. We love bounce lighting, and it’s incredible what you can achieve with this setup. Here’s our top tips, things not to do and a couple of techniques that may be of interest.

Let’s get into it!

Don’t use super-hot lights

Yep, try to avoid incredibly hot lights. The reason you should avoid using incredibly hot lights is that they can, unfortunately, set fire, and it does happen. 

Using lights like LEDs or similar are preferred as they won’t overheat and catch the material on fire. Many people use light materials to bounce the light, and they can be dangerous when using hot lights; they’ll catch fire and endanger people around you. 

Always look for LEDs or HMIs when bouncing light. The low levels of heat will help you manage a full day shooting without any fire hazards.

Why not read our in-depth article on: Low Key Lighting: How you can create a dramatic atmosphere immediately

You can create your own bounce board.

Bounce boards don’t have to be expensive; creating your own bounce board is possible. Earlier in the article, we mentioned the different types of bounce boards and bounce lighting setups you could use.

Some are even free! Well… As long as you have light bed sheets.

Head down to a local hardware store, and you’ll find the right material to make a bounce board capable of capturing shots of Hollywood quality for the cost of a no-budget film. We are a huge fan of the makeshift bounce boards as they disperse and diffuse the light immaculately.  

Read more: Low budget filmmaking equipment list: The essentials

Small adjustments make huge changes

Small adjustments to your bounce lighting setup have a considerable effect. When adjusting the setup, this can be adjusting the angle of the bounce board, the distance between the light and the subject or the angle of light. 

These small movements and changes will have a huge impact on the shot composition. Maker sure you adjust in small adjustments, so you don’t go from one extreme to the other.

Slowly adjust it until you hit the sweet spot. Honestly, it can be the difference in millimetres. 

You may also like: Our top tips for improving your shot composition: The ultimate guide.

Make sure the bounce surface is colour correct.

Make sure the bounce surface is colour correct

This one is quite a simple tip but incredibly important. Ensure the surface you are bouncing the light off is a colour that works with the shot. 

The colour of the paint on a wall that you are bouncing your light from can tint the light and come up slightly different on the shot than you’d like. 

Then it’s a monumental effort in post to colour correct and fix the abnormal light colour. So a simple check on the lighting and the colour of your walls, bounce boards and the material will help you correct things later on down the line.

Why not read: High Key Lighting: What is it? And How to Master it!

The low down on bounce lighting

Bounce lighting is a brilliant tool and perfect for complementing other lighting setups, such as natural lighting or soft lighting. It helps you achieve a cinematic finish and can elevate a normal light setup to the next level. 

Natural lighting, especially at the high exposure end of the scale, you can use the bounce boards or material to diffuse the light and evenly spread it across your shot. 

There’s been some killer scenes filmed using bounce lighting, and we assure you, this is a must when nailing your lighting setup.

Have a look at some of our other lighting setups in our article below, and check out the awesome video on lighting by SonduckFilm below: