Vintage Inspired Documentary Flash Photography 

A current photography trend I have been seeing all over Instagram lately is direct flash. It's something that gives a retro feel because this was how photographers used flash in the early days of flash photography to capture photos of famous people. 

Originally, flash was an actual flame of light - which was particularly bright. Eventually, in the 1930s flash bulbs were introduced, which made flash photography safer as it was now a contained flash of light. These early flashes were quite wasteful though because they could only be used once! In the 1960s the flash cube was introduced - giving a few more shots out of the flash. I imagine this is really what sparked the rise of paparazzi and photography of celebrities because photographers could simply take more photos without having to switch out bulbs as much. By the 70s, electronic flash was used and the rest is history. Flash photography became much more accessible to everyone. 

For years, many wedding photographers have been using diffused light, which is also lovely, but it doesn’t give that retro feel like direct flash photography. The difference here is that you may see some photographers using a tool to diffuse the light on their flash, the tool often looks like a white opaque cone or dome that is attached to the top of a flash. This makes the light diffused or the light rays more scattered and spread out over the subject rather than harsh like that of using direct flash. For diffused flash photography, the photographer may also point the flash upward or indirectly at the subject. This makes the light much less bright. They might also not point the light at the subject at all, using a white wall perhaps to bounce the light from behind them to then bounce more softly back onto the subject. The result of diffused light mimics a more even and natural light look. 

When a photographer is using direct flash, the subject stands out from the background. The subject is bright and the background is darker, giving more contrast. Shadows are more extreme and it gives that retro feel because the subject is dominant. This is because the light is coming in a direct fashion in a straight line from the flash without being scattered by a diffuser. Direct flash photography is certainly an aesthetic choice and can give a more authentic feel. Somewhat like what our parents and grandparents would have used for personal photos. This makes the photos feel more relatable and less perfect. Because it was also a style prominent in those early Hollywood days, it can also feel very glamorous. 

When I need to use flash photography at weddings, I often like to use direct flash rather than diffused light. I love the retro look and it’s a fun opportunity to make everyone look like celebrities. I also sometimes like to play with the flash to create light trails if there are hanging lights in the reception venue. 

Sometimes, I enjoy testing out different styles of light at home to see how I’d like to photograph my clients at their weddings. This is a fun way for my husband and I to get some photos for ourselves, but it’s also a great way to experiment to try new things for my clients. 

Here are a few examples of retro-inspired direct flash photography of my husband and I on New Year’s Eve. To further create that retro-feel, in post editing, I chose to make the images look like polaroids and gave them some grain.