Turn Off That Flash For Better Pictures

I don’t image myself a great photographer by any means –I’ve simply learned the rules of framing a shot, along withthe technical details of capturing it well. Given that I takea lot of pictures, invariably some of them turn out quitenice (and a lot turn out terrible — oh thank you digitalcamera technology. This was much more expensive with the 35mm).


Really, I consider myself a photography technician (in this casecapturing a visit to the Science Centre. All shots in this entrywere shot at ISO 1600 with no flash. Aperature was usually fairlyfast – f/5.6 or so. Shutter speed varied between 1/20th to1/60th of a second, so a firm, steady grasp of the camera wasparamount), and my best shots aren’t themselves a form of art, butare simply capturing the beauty of the world around us. Beautifulmoments we see every day.


In any case, when asked to provide photography advice I have onepeeve that I always mention: Flash photography.


Flash lit pictures are, as a general rule, terrible.They usually feature a starkly lit subject – one that’s oftenboth overexposed and underexposed at the same time — overlaid atopa barely visible background (almost detached from it, as if it wasphotoshopped in). Most ambient lighting has disappeared, replacedby the cold, artificial light of the flash. Shadows arecast across the scene (the further the flash is from the lens,the more of a visible shadow there will be, yet the closer theflash is to the lens, the worse that direct reflection andred-eye becomes). 

My general disdain for flash photography was one of the reasonswhy I bought the Canon Digital Rebel XT — It features up to a 1600ISO (which refers to the sensitivity of the sensor – in thiscase equal to 1600 film, which is very “fast” film. Many sensorshave amplifiers that you can engage to increase the ISO, but italso increases sensor noise), with a slightly grainy butotherwise excellent picture at that speed, coupled with “fast”(lots of light) lens options. I’ve captured many wonderful picturessimply by setting the ISO to 1600 and disabling the flash, holdingthe camera as steady as possible, and then taking multiple shotswith the hope that one of them turns out.

These were all pictures that would have turned out terrible witha flash, but instead I’ve captured gorgeous ambient light streamingin, colour reflections off of the wall, and the detail of theenvironment around the subject. As sensor technology improves, andwe get even higher ISOs with reduced noise (and larger sensors thatmake use of more of the light), a lot of great photographs willresult.


Of course there is a place for flashphotography: It’s critical for capturing fast movingmoment indoors, professionally staged scenes with lots ofprofessional lights, and even a skillful use of fill flash on aharshly lit day outside; however flash photography ingeneral, in particular indoors, is grossly overused, turning a lotof beautiful photographs into so-so snapshots. 

The sensitivity of a camera and lens combination is a sellingpoint that gets far less attention than it should.


If you were expecting me to say something about MacromediaFlash…well I aim to please. Check out this link.


That’s what you get if you visit Honda Canada and you don’t haveFlash (or more correctly if their shoddy script can’t detect Flash.I have Flash in Firefox, but alas I’m redirected to this “too bad”page). While I can appreciate elements of the site beingimplemented in Flash (e.g. the car configurator), forcing Flash tosee anything at all is amazingly ignorant. Thewording almost implies that without Flash you’re not welcome toHonda cars, which is just astounding hubris.