The Frustration of Flash featuring The Van Ts
So here's the thing: you buy a DSLR and quickly learn that pop up flash is the worst thing. In fact, just front facing flash in general is the worst. Burn it with fire. So...you buy a flash gun. That's pro right? It's a big piece of kit so it must be.
Wrong. Well, not wrong. They're a really useful tool used correctly. But you know what? Sometimes really useful tools really suck as well. The world is a complex place.
The photo above used flash. And I do like it. It’s a really cool moment which I think captures the kind of sexy ‘break your neck because you’re having too much fun to realise’ rumble that defines The Van Ts live, but it was captured using flash. And there’s a lot of extra light here. And it feels…forced.
Ambient light creates the mood. Enhances the atmosphere. It’s a vital component of the experience of…well, anything. Your environment does a lot to define your experience. And when you use a tool like a flash to completely change how that light affects the subject…it doesn’t capture that moment in the same way. Which isn’t to say using flash if you need to get the shots you need is wrong.
But I often find the results frustrating. Partly because I still barely understand how to effectively work a flash, and also partly because the environments I shoot in don’t allow for flash. Which is cool because ambient light makes a lot of live shots. But on the flip side of that a lot of venues don’t have good ambient lights.
So when I was shooting this show…I decided I was sick of flash. I never really use it. For anything. I’d be damned if Broadcast and it’s total lack of lights, and insistence of those they do have being red, wasn’t going to stop me getting good shots. So I turned my flash gun off and went for it. And it paid off. But much less than usual if I’m totally honest.
The example above these paragraphs is my favourite flashless photo from the show. The one below here is my favourite example with flash from the show.
It is endlessly frustrating to rely on a tool you don't understand to sometimes get you through what you're trying to do. Especially when you have placed a lot of importance of documenting things as they happen, without getting in the way of being a prominent part of them, a flash really kills that vibe. For everyone.
And shows like this shouldn't have anything interrupt the vibe. The Van T's are a tremendous modern rock band who don't dwell on cliches but remind you of the classic sense of self-aware sass and danger that makes a lot of alternative music so appealing. It's real easy to overshadow that kind of knowing atmosphere of "we're all in on this cool thing together" when there's a massive bright light firing off now and then.
I hate flash. Though more than I hate the tool itself, I hate how little I understand it. The only real limitation here isn’t a venue’s choice of lighting, or the technical understanding of a flash gun but my own ignorance. I feel pretty confident with my gear. I switch settings instinctively these days. Even when I’m without my camera I find myself figuring out what my settings would be in that environment. I’m always trying to get better. But I'm not there yet. That's the real frustration of flash, it represents a gap in my skills. It's nothing to do with the light itself.
With the few shots I got from this show without flash, and I think they speak much more to the atmosphere of the show than any of those that are well illuminated do, make me think I could be starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. If you'll forgive the pun.
If you're ever at the point in your own creativity where you can't see somewhere to go...that's the only time you need to worry. Realising and confronting your own limitations are the real path to progress.
As long as you can see yourself pushing at your boundaries you'll be alright in the end.
Click images for full screen