Flash Ethics

I bumped into another pro yesterday at The Distillery. She was about to teach a workshop and thought I had come to attend. Which I had not.

Turns out this photographer does photojournalistic weddings and family shoots, and never uses flash, and, astonishingly to me, for the following reason: because she has “ethical problems shooting flash”. I think was unable to convince her to even take a look at speedlighter: flash was a no-go area for her.

Ethical? Artistic I can understand, but in my experience, pros who do not use flash have several reasons:

  1. They do not really know how to, especially TTL flash with all its limitations and complexities. This is the vast majority of non-flash users.
  2. They have genuine (and in my view, misguided) ethical problems.
  3. They have reason (1) but say it’s (2).

Category 2 is a minority, and in my opinion, a misguided one!

As a newspaper shooter, I could never alter a picture: cropping, white balance and exposure is all, and any other alteration would ensure I would never work in press photography again. You need to trust the photos you see in the paper. So I get ethics! But adding light has been allowed for many, many years. What are you supposed to do when there’s not enough light?

I shoot, and teach shooting, with flash. Either:

  1. On its own (in a studio); or in a mixed environment, namely:
  2. Mixed with bright outside light, when you need to kill that light
  3. Or with dim indoors light where you have to boost that light.

The main point is not not the adding light – the main point is the creative options that this opens. By saying “I only shoot with flash” you are denying yourself a great number of opportunities. Like this, taken a few hours ago at Lake Ontario in Oakville:

I used an off-camera flash. Am I ethically sinning by adding light and making this a nice picture? No way. As for events: bounce behind you and use the flash as additional light. You are not committing ethical breaches by doing this!

So go ahead, learn flash, and use it for both technical (adding light) and artistic purposes. Have fun!


3 thoughts on “Flash Ethics

  1. I don’t know if ethical is the word I would choose. I doubt I use flash 10% of the time. Lazy is a word that comes to mind. Useless is another. Polite would be a third. It really depends on circumstances. When I can’t get the shot I want without a flash, I swear to myself a time or two and get out a flash, the rest of the time I don’t use one.

    Of course, if you are shooting city lights at night, a flash is self defeating. It is not too helpful if the guide number is 60 and your subject is 500 feet away, be your subject fireworks, a yacht race, a group of buildings, light trails, or whatever.

    I am always impressed – not in a good way – at sporting events and concerts that many up in the nose-bleed seats will take photos using their point & shoot with the flash on. All they are doing is draining their batteries and perhaps getting a darker image than they would otherwise. It would be more polite, to shoot without flash.

  2. Maybe she doesn’t want to upset people with the smoke and fire that goes off when she ignites her flash?

    I do like the last comment about people whe use flash from 500 yds back.

  3. “Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.”
    George Eastman
    Art lovers today regard Rembrandt as “the master of light and shadow.”

    “My last word is that it all depends on what you visualize.”
    “A photograph is not an accident – it is a concept. It is a creative art”
    Ansel Adams

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