Understanding Flash Photography (Research)

In our most recent lecture, we experimented with the use of flash photography paying particular attention to our aperture and shutter speed settings. I was relieved to be going over information which may be considered basic as its enabled me to have a much more thorough understanding of my camera settings and flash. I’ve always shied away from using it due to fear of subjects being over exposed or missing that one opportunity to get that shot.

Bruce Davidson – Subway

Bruce Davidson- Magnum Photos

Bruce Davidson shot this project on the subways of New York. The saying goes, ‘photograph what you know’. As he lives there, his work in this project gives an insight to the people of New York. As a lot of the images are taken inside, he uses flash effectively to light up the subjects.

USA. New York City. 1980. Subway.

This image clearly uses flash. This is obvious because of:

  • Hotspots on the subject’s head and the wall behind him
  • High contrast in colours
  • Minimal shadows (particularly around the eyes and chin)

The aperture on this image is likely to be narrow as the surrounding area is relatiley dark. I would guess that an F stop of 22 has been used. This only highlights the use of flash more in the picture.

USA. New York City. 1980. Subway.

Again, this image is evidently using flash because of the hot spots created on the subject’s cheek, nose and shoulder. A high F stop would have been used for this as the background is very dark. Unlike the fist image, there more obvious is movement in this. It looks like the train in the background is moving which adds more depth to it.

Brian Finke – Most Muscular


Brian Finke- Most Muscular project: Female category

Finke uses flash to create contrast in his images. In this particular image, much like Bruce Davidson, the hotspots make it clear that flash has been uses. This adds to the existing shine on the women’s bodies due to tan/oil. A wider aperture has been used in this. This is evident due to the wider depth of field and the overall picture being well lit. I would guess that an F stop of around 2.8 was used to take this shot.


Brian Finke- Most Muscular: Male contestant posing with women

Unlike the previous image, this image more obviously uses flash and it uses a larger F stop, reducing the depth of field. The background of this image is very dark which makes it easier to tell that the F stop used is likely 22. Again, the hotspots on the subjects’ bodies indicate use of flash within the image.

Brian Finke – Most Muscular

Rineke Dijestra – Girl


Direct flash has been used in this image. This is obvious due to hot spots on the subjects’ stomach, bikini and legs. As well as this, a high aperture has resulted in a darker, less exposed background, making the subject ‘pop’ more in the picture.


In contrast, this image has a much darker background. This is likely to have been taken with the same camera settings, except the images were taken in California (the above image) and Poland. The weather difference between the two locations create an obvious difference in exposure. However, similarly to the above image, the hot spots on the subjects leg, arm and swimsuit suggest a direct use of flash.

Both imags were taken using a 4X5 medium format camera which allowed them to be blown up to 5ft for exhibition. It also meant that the process took a lot longer than a standard DSLR which meant the relationship between Dijstra and her subjects may be stronger and more intimate than a lot of the other photographers.

Rineke Dijkstra – Girl

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