Thursday, August 29, 2013

On The Use of Flash

In the old old days there was always a problem with enough light to expose a photograph. Long exposures were the norm. Materials got better and more sensitive. Exposure times went down. Still, it wasn't that long ago that plenty of people used ASA 25 film for a lot of things. The solution was artificial lighting of various sorts. I don't know the whole history of artificial light, nor am I very interested in it, but there was certainly flash powder, and various single use bulbs, and then electronic strobes and so on.

All of this stuff was built and used from the point of view of "we need some more light on this person, on this object." Things have changed and are continuing to change, we now have absurdly high ISOs in our digital equipment, and can make outstanding pictures with sensor sensitivities that would have seemed pure science fiction 20 years ago, or even 10. The pace does not seem to be slacking, we're promised ever more sensitivity in the future, albeit sometimes with exotic technologies which may never see the light of day.

This can and should lead to a change in attitude. Not a change in actual usage, just the way we think about it.

Splashing light all over the subject is no longer necessary. What is necessary is to create and manage shadows. I think of flash as creating darkness. You should too. Flash is useful because it lights up part of the subject, not because it lights up the whole subject. This creates a shadow in the part it didn't light up.

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