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Beware Straight Flash

  • “Straight flash is Disaster Light.”

Straight flash is disaster light. Use it at 3:00 a.m., with bodies on the highway, and nothing to bounce off.

Jerry Seinfeld has a funny routine about guys who are desperately trying to meet girls but can’t figure out how. He talks about the guy who sits in his car and honks his horn at women. As he very rightly points out, “This is a man who has run out of ideas.”

As photographers, when we use straight flash, we’re that guy.

We’re in the cavern of a casino—nothing to bounce light off of—straight flash was the only way to go. In this case, the picture sucks, but the personalities saved it. And believe it or not, this picture got published in Newsweek. The mantra of editoral photographers is “get the shot”—even if you know it’s going to suck, when you have an array of personalities like this, you have to put the camera to your eye.

That being said, any light that originates at the camera is de facto unflattering—you’re literally throwing light at your subject. You’re not making a picture, you’re making a copy. It’s a game of inches, even if I can only get the flash off the camera by a few inches (to the left or right of my camera), I know I improved the quality of my light. I always tell my students: when you use straight flash, you turn your camera into a Xerox machine.

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