I have already written this once since I started this blog, but some things need to be said again - especially when you start to realise that there is something very big going on in your world. What am I talking about? It's the fact that using light is no longer a necessity for most jobs, it's now a choice. The quality of the files that the latest digital SLRs produce even at 3200 ISO and beyond is so good that the need to carry bags of lighting kit has gone away... carrying the kit has become a positive choice, a creative choice, something you do because you want to...


At the risk of sounding very old, very world weary and being a bit of a bore... we have never had it so easy. The kit that we work with today allows us to get the pictures that we want, in the way that we want without having to make a huge number of compromises.

When the digital revolution started to overtake the profession in 1998 and 1999 we were severely limited by the quality of the chips. At 200 ISO and with good light the images were amazing - even using the 1.9 megapixel Kodak DCS cameras. At 400 ISO the pictures were very usable but much beyond that there was noise, flattened colours and the quality dropped off very badly.

Subsequent generations of cameras started to increase the usable ISO range but we never really had the kit to shoot in low light and get quality images. The Canon EOS1D MkIII brought a big jump in low light capabilities but then came the Nikon D3 followed by the Nikon D700 and suddenly it was possible to shoot without flash and without compromise if we wanted to. Thankfully, Canon have now stepped up to the plate and the 5D MkII gives non-Nikonians the same options.

History lesson - over.

Having to make creative compromises due to the shortcomings of the kit - over.

What a relief. I used to spend a lot of time lighting scenes to make it look like I hadn't lit them. I used to worry about constantly firing flash units and distracting from the situations that I was shooting. Now, if I light the scene, it is because I want to add a creative twist. This is big. This is really big. This is another pivotal moment.

Looking at the work of other photographers in newspapers and magazines it is really interesting to see how much work is being done without light. So many photographers and photojournalists only ever used lights under duress and regarded flash as a necessary evil. Lighting pictures - especially editorial portraits - brings a different atmosphere and we will be moving away from an era where too many pictures looked the same as one another because we had no choice.

My work is changing. I am really enjoying being able to choose between lit, mixed and ambient styles and switching between them on the same commission. When I light stuff, it's because its the right thing to do creatively - and that means greater job satisfaction, better work and fewer compromises.

© Neil Turner April 2009

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