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Flash Etiquette

I have some difficulty finding the right word to properly describe how I feel about people who flash inappropriately (photo flash, that is). Many options come to mind, however most of them are not appropriate for a mixed readership.

Ruth and I recently attended some panels at the Emerald City Comic Con (the panels were Wil Wheaton, Leonard Nimoy, and the cast from The Guild); before each panel there was a clear and pointed request that there be no flash photography. Available light photos were fine, but the flash tends to be distracting to the panelists, not to mention painful. As a more or less responsible photographer I was grateful that I could take pictures at all and had come prepared with a good indoor lens (the Nikon 50mm 1.8 AF). Many people were at each panel taking pictures, but only the slim majority were doing so without flash.

Then there were the idiots. Digital cameras are not so complex that your average octopus couldn't disable the flash. Now I know that most people are too awed by the presence of their idols that "rules" and "politeness" are banished from their minds. They need that photo Spock and they need it now, no time to press a couple of buttons. Perhaps they don't stop to consider how much their heros appreciate a blinding flash from the audience every few seconds. Now obviously I find this sort of person irritating, but overall it is an easy problem for them to fix: turn the dam flash off before they need the camera. If they can't figure out how, they should put their camera away and ask more intelligent friend to take the pictures.

Now we come to the worst people. The ones I know of no non-obscene word to describe. The wanna-be "photog" who bought a discount (or sometimes not) SLR and hotshoe flash, and who think that because their camera makes a mechanical shutter noise that they can do whatever they want. Now don't mistake me, I have nothing against anyone taking pictures with whatever equipment they want. I have something against people thinking that their gear gives them some sort of license to be a total jerk. At the the first two panels we went to there was a woman who set herself up in the center isle with some sort of cheap SLR and a cheaper add-on flash. She didn't have any official badge, but she sure thought she owned the place. The speakers were surprisingly tolerant, but I suppose they are used to her kind of troll. It is bad enough with point-and-shoots (whose useful flash range is seldom more than twenty feet anyhow), but to use a high power flash close up would defiantly have the panelists seeing spots. Maybe this woman didn't realize that she could raise the ISO or buy a faster lens, or more likely, she wanted to draw attention to herself.*

The moral of the story.

Please learn how to turn you flash off. On most point-and-shoots you either cycle through flash setting by pressing the flash button repeatedly or pressing it until the desired option is selected and pressing OK. Most entry level SLRs have a fully automatic setting (a little green camera with "Auto" under it on Nikons), although it isn't difficult to turn flash off on this setting, I usually recommend switching to Program Mode instead (a "P" on the dial or screen) or Aperture Priority Mode ("A"). In my experience most cameras will not turn the flash on automatically under these settings, and the A Mode has the advantage of letting you open the f-stop up which will improve low light performance (at a cost of depth of field).

Why flash etiquette is important.

One of the best results of the digital camera is that everyone can now be a good photographer cheaply and without too much time invested. This is also one of the biggest drawbacks. Most good photographers (both pro and amateur) are responsible and considerate. However many people react to the lens pointed at them, not the person behind it. From their perspective the jerk with the flash and the dedicated photographer look the same. I personally don't wanted to be lumped in with the jerks, and more importantly I don't want my camera to be banned from even more museums and events just because there are flash happy idiots ruining the experience for everyone.

So Please. No Flashing--from your camera.

*As were were leaving the next day we saw the same woman plaintively pleading with security: "but I just HAVE to get backstage." She didn't seem to be making any headway though. I was rather amused.