I was watching the Olympics, and one thing I noticed was that flashes are going off in the spectators' stands.

Why are people using flash? Is it because they are using automatic mode, or point and shoot? I can't imagine it getting good results. Also during such events, I would imagine that only a good quality telephoto/prime lens and a tripod would be required to capture anything good.


Yes, all those flashes are from people who don't know any better, usually using point and shoots or full auto mode.

Those flashes do not help the resulting image in any way, but today's cameras (thankfully?) manage to get an acceptable image anyway (probably with the same settings it would have used for no flash auto mode), a few years ago each of those flashes would represent a properly exposed but out of focus picture of the top of the head of the person one row in front of the photographer.

Also, a good telephoto and a tripod are forbidden in most events (including the Olympic games) unless you get special permission in advance from the organizers, in many events (but not this year's Olympic games) they wouldn't even let you bring in a DSLR with the kit lens.

  • I thought I saw a couple of Canon L lenses in the stands. – Bill Jul 29 '12 at 8:24
  • The official rules are very vague and mention "No cameras longer than 30cm" Which probably means some folk got lucky and had a lens in their bags with a different lens on their camera when they got screened. – user9236 Jul 29 '12 at 10:42
  • 14
    The rules are actually remarkably clear compared to most events which forbid "professional-type cameras" (which leaves a lot to the individual security guards' interpretation): the camera kit basically has to fit into a box 20x20x30cm (about 8x8x12"). That will allow 300mm/2.8 or 400mm/4 lenses with a teleconverter (provided any other lens(es) you bring can also fit in the box along with your body). The restriction is entirely safety-related for a change; they just don't want you using anything you can smack a fellow spectator with accidentally. – user2719 Jul 29 '12 at 15:05
  • 2
    Typo: raw > row. – TRiG Jul 29 '12 at 23:54
  • @StanRogers I would rather smack the guy who uses expensive lenses to smack others :D Weird rule ! – GoodSp33d Mar 21 '13 at 14:12

99% amateurs don't know or want to change the auto settings.

  • Wouldn't the end result be a bunch of people's bright heads? – Bill Jul 29 '12 at 8:18
  • 4
    @Bill: 99% them probably aren't even an amateur photographer, they are simply a regular Jack and Jill using P&S camera going on vacation; given that P&S camera are so cheap nowadays and even some phone camera have flash, there are more people then ever who don't know a thing about photography and can't really tell the difference between good and bad shots, and even if they see it were bad shots, they would just shrug it off and take it anyway. – Lie Ryan Jul 29 '12 at 15:22
  • 1
    @LieRyan So true. I can understand and appreciate non-enthusiasts not wanting to learn photography, but I really have a hard time accepting their total disregard for the difference between a good and bad shot. – Fer Jul 31 '12 at 19:17

I can't find anything, but I remember reading that when the Olympics were at Salt Lake City, during the opening ceremonies disposable film point-n-shoots were given to every single spectator, and they were asked to take photos throughout the event. The goal was not to get people to take photos, but to get the flashes to go off, which looked pretty spectacular to see so many flashes bursting in the stands throughout the event.

I'm sure most events aren't the same but I think it's an interesting perspective to why to fire the flash.


In addition to Nir's answer, sometimes you can use flash to help the lens to focus using auto focus mode.

  • 4
    This doesn't apply when the subject is tens of metres+ away. – Russell McMahon Jul 29 '12 at 9:42
  • 1
    But some people might think it applies, which would help explain the fireflies-in-the-stands phenomenon. – Please Read My Profile Jul 29 '12 at 12:12
  • @RussellMcMahon you are right, but I didn't say they will get a good and in-focus photo... they will just try – K'' Jul 29 '12 at 17:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.