Everywhere you look, direct flash is lighting up projects and editorials in various genres, from portraits and fashion, to street and documentary, to food and product photography.
Terry Richardson may have fallen out of favor and spotlight, but the visual style he helped popularize remains one of today’s trendiest. Direct flash photography, also called high-flash photography by some, has become the tool of choice for magazines, newspapers, Instagrammers, and social media marketers as of late. Or, as one article put it, from salad bowls to CEOs.
That remark may get you giggling a little, but the now defunct Racked has found that it can’t be more true. In one of their September 2018 features, they talked about the stores, magazines, and photographers who have turned to the wonders of direct flash for their product shots, editorials, and news features.
For the owners of Coming Soon, a New York-based vintage furniture store, it creates a playful mood that mirrors the fun experience they want people to have in their store. New York magazine’s photography director Jody Quon called it the “heightened look”, as “that pop of flash helps to elevate what would normally be a fairly banal situation.” Photographer Cole Wilson, a regular contributor to the New York Times, has found that “blasting light everywhere” lent a more uniform look for his photos, both for documentary work and business stories. We even see this is in food photography for magazines like Gather Journal and Bon Appetit, as unlikely as that sounds.
The list goes on.
However, as the Racked article also mentioned, this flashy look is hardly new, and has even become popular outside Terry Richardson’s controversial portfolio. There’s Juergen Teller‘s blown-out product and editorial photography, for example. Then, there’s also street photographer Bruce Gilden, who is best known for his in-your-face street portraits snapped with flash. It also shaped the unforgettable mood in the conceptual portraits of late Chinese photographer Ren Hang.
It’s not a common practice for portrait photography, whose goal is to soften the subjects’ features and give them a more naturally flattering or dramatic look. So why the continued fixation for this visual style? Partly because it takes away the technicality of flash photography. But more importantly, precisely because it’s bold and bright. There are more details that pop, the colors are extra punchy, and it makes the subjects look either more youthful or more dynamic. For street and documentary portraits, the harsh lighting creates the impression of more action or energy. These qualities, as we’ve also seen in some projects we’ve previously featured, appears more modern and fitting for today’s daring times.
Now, should you start slapping direct flash on your work anytime soon? It depends on your vision. Study some examples that catch your eye and imagine how their look, mood, and characteristics will translate to your work. Once you have that figured out, you can go ahead and try it out. It’s really easy, but here’s our take on it.