ALWAYS KEEP ON THE SUNNY SIDE (OR DON’T)
By MICHAEL PERKINS
IF YOU RELISH VIEWING A LOT OF PHOTOGRAPHIC DISCUSSIONS THAT BEGIN with either “I always” or “I never”, enter “Do You Use Flash Photography?” into a search engine, stand back, and brace for impact. I check such forums on a fairly regular basis as I personally believe that, with fewer and fewer exceptions, we are generally entering the twilight of the flash era, and I am curious as to why the hangers-on still defend its use, exclusive of very special situations.
Hmm. Reading back that last sentence, it sounds as if I’m trying to start a grudge match of some sort. I am not. All I am doing, as a photographer of some fifty years’ experience, is relating my own experience and comparing it with that of others. I tend to see flash as a tool that once was needed by nearly everyone, which is much the same view I have of, say, tripods. Both tools were once much more essential to good results than they are today, simply by virtue of the evolving acuity and sensitivity of current tech. Cameras cannot absolutely copy the eye in all its operations, but increasingly intuitive functions have been engineered across more and more shooting scenarios, including much faster and more precise evaluation of things like contrast and color temperature. As a result, the benefit of flash is often counter-weighted against all the things that can go wrong with flash (including bulk, expense and difficulty of consistent results), leading people like myself to go for years at a space without ever shooting a single frame with it.
Today’s cameras have drastically redefined the phrase “adequate light”. Is flash photography headed for the scrap heap of history?
The signs of change abound: wedding shoots, once a key domain for flash, are increasingly flashless upon the insistence of either the bridal party or venues that simply don’t allow it; more full-service cameras are being marketed with no flash hot shoe whatsoever, achieving the needed thirst for additional light with larger sensors and greater ISO ranges; and while cellphone cameras still default to the use of flash, the chance to opt out of it altogether has been offered for more than a decade now.
Nikon’s global ambassador (and shooter extraordinaire) Joe McNally once defined “available light” as “any damn light that’s available” and he has taught millions how to keep flash on something of a short leash, using it to balance or enhance rather than to actually serve as primary illumination. For me (and that’s the only person I can speak for), the meeting of advanced technology and a better understanding of how all light works has reduced the number of must-flash situations to a short list. That said, many people continue to produce miracles using it, meaning that it may never completely wink ot of existence.
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