Flash: Introduction

The Only Thing I Really Like About On-Camera Flash Is That It Tricks Me Into Going All Artsy with the Black and White - or - My Teachers Would Have Hated This with a Passion
By Light & Coffee

What’s wrong with this image? (click on it for larger version)
This gal is gorgeous, but it’s hard to see it because of how she’s lit by the on-camera flash. Her cheeks and forehead are “blown” (overexposed), and her face has been flattened by the flash and lack the contours and details that shapes every person’s face. The background is dark instead of being well-illuminated. If it weren’t for the lack of transparency, I would think this was a ghost!

Many hobby photographers use the built-in flash or a flash mounted on the hot-shoe. It’s prevalent, we see it everywhere. In news, movies, tv shows, on the streets. This begs the question: why do professional photographers say to never use the flash on-camera? If the mechanism is there, why not?

The part of the answer lies with the camera manufacturers. In the early days of cameras, they didn’t include a shoe mount or a built-in flash. Flash accessories were expensive, fragile and very few people used them, much less owned one. Professional photographers, mainly. A few reporters if they worked at a newspaper that could afford it.

Flash cubeSometime in late 60s, they started including a flash mount and sold flash cubes as an accessory. The built-in flashes that most of us are so familiar with became prevalent in the 70s and 80s. At some point in late 90s, it morphed into the pop-up flash set (seen below).

Basically the manufacturers figured out that if they made affordable cameras with built-in flashes, more average consumers would buy them. Money makes the world go ’round, baby!

And buy, they did. The public just loved the idea of being able to photograph anywhere, even indoor, without needing expensive accessories. The camera manufacturers raked it in. In short, the built-in flash is there to satisfy the popular demand, not because it’s good at its job.

The good news is: avoiding this ghastly effect isn’t too difficult with a couple key accessories that are inexpensive and with a little practice. A flash (or better yet, two!) and a hot shoe cord or radio transmitter/receivers. There are a few other helpful accessories you can purchase or DIY, as well.  All for about $100.

The issue of equipment and how to to use them will be addressed in the next Flash posts in the next few weeks. Stay tuned! And keep shooting.


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