Shooting by accident or standing out from the crowd?

October 31, 2008

Actress Jessica Biel arrives for the premiere of “Easy Virtue” in Leicester Square, London October 28, 2008.   REUTERS/Luke MacGregor   (BRITAIN)

London-based Reuters photographer Luke MacGregor shot the picture above by using a slow shutter speed, around 1/50th of a second, and continually shooting frames with no flash in the hope that he would catch the moment a flash from another photographer illuminated Jessica Biel posing on the red carpet.

This reminded me of an earlier red-carpet picture of Jessica Biel where Luke had used the same “catch flash” technique. The picture of her arrival at the BAFTAs, below, caused a mini stir of discontent amongst the desk editors in Singapore. Some editors championed the picture, others wanted to reject it, or ‘spike’ it in journalistic terminology. One editor even said the technique was like “shooting by accident”.

U.S. actress Jessica Biel arrives at the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) awards ceremony at The Royal Opera House in London February 10, 2008. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor   (BRITAIN)

Luke himself says “I guess it is a little like shooting by accident – except that I have planned to shoot by accident and have thought through the situation to try and get what I want using some form of judgement”. 

The technique only works when there are enough photographers using flash. You have to judge the optimum time to shoot. You have to wait until a subject reacts – waving or gesturing to the crowd for example – and then you stand more chance of catching other flashes.

It is an imprecise science, often resulting in blank and over-exposed frames. The combination photo below shows the frames before and after the picture Luke chose (top right) from the Easy Virtue premiere.

Luke likes the “catch flash” technique as it gives a similar effect to off-camera flash. It doesn’t illuminate the immediate background and so avoids the harsh shadows of direct flash.

Personally, I think pictures like this bring a nice variety to the wire. It is a great way to have your work stand out from the many hundreds of pictures shot by the large crowds of photographers who attend these red-carpet events around the world.

The picture below, taken at the Cannes Film Festival this year, gives you an idea of the competition Reuters shooters are up against.

Photographers work at the 61st Cannes Film Festival May 18, 2008.   REUTERS/Christian Hartmann   (FRANCE)


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Luke MacGregor is a fantastic photographer! He once gave me some really helpful advice on photojournalism after I got talking to him at a protest here in London. His words were just as inspiring as his pictures.

It’s good to see the pros experimenting with techniques and trying something new, even if it runs the risk of not getting the shot at all.

Posted by Tanya Nagar | Report as abusive

Thomas Dworzak inspired me to do thiswith a photo of Obama in New Hampshire. In retrospect, though, it turns out that there wasn’t a strobe in that photo, but just a spotlight!

On a technical note, it’s not that hard to catch the flash. Most cameras have that distinct red AF-assist light shining on the subject so you know that the flash will fire shortly.

Posted by jcyrai | Report as abusive

In at least one very important way, caught flash pictures portray the reality of the scene BETTER than ones without the burst of light. To the viewer standing by observing the scene, there is a cacophony of flashes going off. Including the light from another flash in the photo both makes for a more interesting image and a more accurate depiction of the scene itself.

Posted by Brian Snyder | Report as abusive