The effect of blockage ratio on the early phase of the flame acceleration process was investigated in an obstructed square cross-section channel. Flame acceleration was promoted by an array of top and bottom-surface mounted obstacles that were distributed along the entire channel length at an equal spacing corresponding to one channel height. It was determined that flame acceleration is more pronounced for higher blockage obstacles during the initial stage of flame acceleration up to a flame velocity below the speed of sound of the reactants. The progression of the flame shape and flame area was determined by constructing a series of three dimensional flame surface models using synchronized orthogonal schlieren images. A novel schlieren based photographic technique was used to visualize the unburned gas flow field ahead of the flame front. A small amount of helium gas is injected into the channel before ignition, and the evolution of the helium diluted unburned gas pocket is tracked simultaneously with the flame front. Using this technique the formation of a vortex downstream of each obstacle was observed. The size of the vortex increases with time until it reaches the channel wall and completely spans the distance between adjacent obstacles. A shear layer develops separating the core flow from the recirculation zone between the obstacles. The evolution of oscillations in centerline flame velocity is discussed in the context of the development of these flow structures in the unburned gas.