Serene Life

by garik

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I was hanging out with a friend of mine who is a professional photographer (for 15+ years), and has a solid portfolio, web-presence, and regional and national exposure.

He never uses a flash. Period. Swears to never use them for his engagements (mostly wedding).

Where does flash make sense? Or rather:

Can one have a full photographer experience/service without ever using a flash?

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2  
Helmut Newton used natural light. –  Jędrek Kostecki May 3 '11 at 2:34
    
Did Ansel Adams ever use a flash? If so, it must have been in his MF work. –  Andy Blankertz Sep 5 at 14:43

9 Answers 9

up vote 34 down vote accepted

Lets break this down into sub-questions to make the answer more obvious:

It is possible for someone NEVER to use the flash?

Yes. Buy a DSLR without a built-in one and do not pay for an add-on flash, and voila!

Can you make great photos without EVER using a flash?

Yes. Just look at photos taken without a flash. My entire gallery has been taken without a flash. Sometimes I use flash, it is extremely rare but not an absolute for me.

Are you going to run out of photos to take if you do not use a flash?

No. There is always more to shoot, more subjects, more angles, etc.

Can you take every type of imaginable photograph without a flash?

No. Some shots require flash to get it a certain way. High-speed photography like water-drops are a good example.

Can a photographer be a professional if he only shoots photos without a flash?

Why not? It is part of style. Some photographers are even more restrictive. I've heard of one which shot everything in natural light with a 50mm lens over a 30+ year career. He neither run out of photos to take nor of people willing to pay for them.

Honestly your friend probably has an excellent advantage on his side. His wedding photos probably look unlike most typical wedding photos. That is a pretty cool selling point!

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Like your points here. Thanks a bunch Itai! Nice gallery btw. +1 –  Agile Scout May 3 '11 at 0:44

Why make such a choice?

To state the obvious, photography is about light. Even natural light can make bad photographs. Would you say, you will never use moonlight to take a photograph? Flash is just another source of light. Of course, one must learn to use a flash because, it is a little more challenging than natural light, because natural light is always on for you to do your metering. Most modern flash units and camera now make that situation simple these days.

So, the question is not what equipment you should use, but what image you want to capture.

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Flash is great, i love it. Endless possibilities. It's not just for dark environments either. I don't consider there to be 'natural light' and 'flash photography'. it's just photography.

"Flash is unnatural, i only use natural light"

Rough translation;-

"I have no idea how to balance ambient and flash light but i'm very good at putting others down who do."

Flash, photoshop, tripods, it's all part of the end product. You're not being 'natural' by refusing to use them, you're just cutting your nose off to spite your face.

Why are people so concerned with process over product?

There's so much misinformation about photography.

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1  
First, it seems that "I have no idea how to balance ambient and flash light but i'm very good at putting others down who do." isn't that polite. Second, you haven't answered the question. You extol the benefits of flash, but if I were to read your answer out of context, I wouldn't know that the question was "Is it acceptable..." –  Andy Blankertz Sep 5 at 14:04
    
My apologies. The link i entered this site on went straight to a specific comment. –  GMan Sep 5 at 14:40
    
HIt enter early. Though if you consider what i said as impolite, consider that there are so many people out there putting down other photographers by mistakenly thinking that the use of editing software, flash etc (anything that isn't just a camera being pointed at a subject) is unnatural, or only for poor photographers who need to make their images look better. –  GMan Sep 5 at 14:46
    
It puts out a lot of misinformation that is quite impolite to those who choose to use the tools they have. I've lost jobs to amateurs who told my client that i must be rubbish if i can't 'get it in camera (rely on in camera profiles to produce a jpeg, rather than my own eye to process raw into a ready to print file) or not understand how to use natural light. To answer the question - it depends what you're doing. But to completely avoid flash by way of style or process is counterproductive. SOmetimes you'll need it, sometimes you won't. Apologies though, i didn't mean to be rude. –  GMan Sep 5 at 14:47

Yes it's perfectly possible to be a photographer, professional or otherwise, without ever using flash, just like you could be a professional photographer without ever using f/2.8.

I would however consider someone a more well rounded photographer if they knew how to use flash, even more so if they also knew when to use flash!

There are right an wrong reasons for avoiding flash. "Because you can't personally get good results from it" is, in my opinion, the wrong reason. Flash photography doesn't have to look like this:

When done right it can look like this (all of these were shot at events with a hotshoe mounted flash):


And for anyone who thinks flash kills the mood at weddings I present the following, all using flash (off camera, except for the first shot):

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4  
Very nice shots. –  rfusca May 3 '11 at 20:34
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Fantastic examples! You are a true flash-foo master! –  jrista May 4 '11 at 2:57
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For what its worth, I'm pretty sure the woman dancing with her hair flinging is an example of a photo you'd have a crazy hard time taking without flash. Stopping fast motion indoors in low light and not with the time to grab 27 reflectors and redirect enough light. –  rfusca May 4 '11 at 6:01
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@khedron The first set were all shot with a hotshoe mounted flash, angled to bounce the light off an appropriate surface to provide even, diffuse, flattering illumination. The second set (after the horizontal line) were mostly off camera flash using a softbox or ubmrella. –  Matt Grum Mar 20 '13 at 15:09
1  
I love how this answers by showing. –  mattdm Mar 20 '13 at 15:11

Another point is that Modern DSLR with high iso low(ish) noise make flash less and less necessary. Working with an argentic camera with an iso 100 film aint the same as working with a D7000 at iso 1600 or 3200. Clearly for a given low light there is more requirement for flash in the former case than the later!

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As long as he's not using flash for the right reasons, then it's completely fine. The wrong reasons sound like the following:

I HATE using flash! It's soooo unnatural!

This is a chronic illness among new (D)SLR owners, and it's just a ridiculous statement (especially with an entry-level camera). Technology can only get you so far, and then you help yourself with Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture, etc. In a perfect world the lighting will always be great. Unfortunately, we don't live in a perfect world; sometimes it's too dark, sometimes it's too bright, sometimes it's super bright on someone's forehead and dark on the rest of her body.

Photography is about capturing what's reflected in light. With tools you can shape the light to your needs. Flash shapes that light during the shoot. Software, and other tools, shape the light post-shoot.

So to answer your first question, flash makes sense where the lighting is not to your liking. Then you use flash (and reflectors, diffusers, etc) as a tool to shape the lighting to your needs.

To answer your second question, yes it's possible to take photos your whole life without using flash at all. I'm sure your friend does a fair amount of post-processing to help his pictures come to life.

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Weddings are a special type of engagement in my opinion. The rule I have always heard is "Flash kills the romance". It is usually a truth in wedding photography.

I rarely use a flash in my own wedding photography, but it does come into play in certain situations. I think it would be completely acceptable not to ever use a flash if that is the effect you are going for. If you shoot with prime lenses and wide open apertures, you really do not need to use a flash to freeze your subjects even in dim light.

Where I think a flash would be useful:

  • Posed group shots indoors, such as in a church.
  • Indoor wedding reception at night
  • Dimly lit church procession

All of these situations can be covered if you shoot with a wide open aperture such as f/1.2 and a high ISO, but you are going to be hit with a razor thin depth of field which might not be adequate.

Overall, I would say it is unlikely, but possible that a professional wedding photographer would never use any type of flash/strobe/lighting besides natural light.

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@user4892 For future reference, double spacing twice after the end of the line creates a newline. Second, to create a bulleted list, you need a newline between the previous sentence and your bulleted list; then, you can type - and insert one space, to create your bullet. –  Uticensis May 3 '11 at 14:36
    
Shooting at f/1.2, if you're far enough away your DoF isn't THAT thin - at 20 feet its still a full 2 feet wide on something like a 7D. –  rfusca May 3 '11 at 18:15

"full photographer experience" is the kicker here really.

Can you do weddings? Apparently, because your friend does.

Can you create a dramatically lit portrait in a fully lit, bright room against a bright walls without it...probably not.

If you always have control over your environment and only want to do certain kinds of shots - then of course you can do it....but you're certainly missing out on a whole dimension of your photography you can control.

Shooting without flash is part of his style and thats what he's selling. There's not really an inherent advantage to refusing to use flash - its just that its helping to define his style. And having a style - that's an advantage.

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I think what @rfusca is stating here is critical: Choosing to use, or not to use, flash is a personal, stylistic choice. There is certainly no evidence that says using or not using flash is better...it really boils down to what kind of consistency of style you want. Once you figure that out...all of your gear simply becomes the tools you use to achieve your style. –  jrista May 3 '11 at 6:05
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You can create a dramatically lit portrait in almost any lighting condition with just natural light and reflectors/diffusers. Just because you don't use flash doesn't man you have no control over the light... –  Kendall Helmstetter Gelner May 3 '11 at 15:09
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@kendall It's not hard to balance with available light at all, in fact modern hotshoe flashes will do the work for you. If you like you can bracket the shutter speed to ensure the right balance. "[flash] almost always lends a very artificial feeling to the image" - Couldn't disagree more, if you know what you're doing and bounce you can get really natural looking images almost every time, see the images I posted here: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/11536/… –  Matt Grum May 3 '11 at 19:54
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@KendallHelmstetterGelner - Regardless of whether you can tell if flash was used or not, I think Matt's images look good. I think the increased brightness of the subjects creates better isolation - but I don't think they look unnatural. –  rfusca May 3 '11 at 20:31
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@Kendall: I think your missing the point. Its NOT about "looking natural"...its about "looking good" and "being professional". That is the entire point of the original question as well, and I think Matt Grum's photos demonstrate the point superbly well. Even though they were shot with flash, and a photographer can tell as much just by glancing at them...it does not change the fact that the photos look great! (Keep in mind, the first one is an example of "bad" flash use, to contrast with all the rest). (cont...) –  jrista May 4 '11 at 2:49

Why not. Flash is IMHO necessary when lighting is harsh, time is short and details in shadow are important. That is three combined factors that can be avoided.

Concerning the weddings: If he can convince the pair not hold the ceremony in full sunlight he will be able to manage - for the formal pictures he can use reflectors.

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Thanks for answering... I love his stuff, and I haven't ever seen a bad portfolio product of his... but your right. ... Maybe it's all photoshop?... :) –  Agile Scout May 3 '11 at 0:30
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Maybe. If he is EV-bracketing at an insane speed ;) –  Leonidas May 3 '11 at 0:35
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@Agile He's also probably not showing you the bad ones. –  Evan Krall May 3 '11 at 4:03
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Isn't that what all photographers do? –  Agile Scout May 3 '11 at 12:52

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