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Flash Photography of Landscapes and Flash Astrophotography

At any stadium, at any sporting event, it's a common sight, flashes of cameras flashing away all over the place. Also, when watching a tourist take a photograph of some grand landscape, FLASH! Off it goes, the bright glare for just an instant.

I've asked people about this, and they say "Well it was a dark scene, so the camera decided to use the flash". Which is fair enough if the camera decided to flash and there was no way to avoid it. However, there is a fundamental fact about flash photography which is often overlooked:

The fact is that a flash can not illuminate a landscape or a stadium or the sky etc. A photographic flash is a bright light which can light up a room, but it has almost no effect outdoors, and certainly no effect further than a few metres away. One way to imagine how this works is to think about being able to view the scene as if time had stopped at the moment of the flash. In a birthday-cake scene, the room is illuminated by the flash in a continuous bright light of maybe a few hundred watts. However the same bright light on a camera at a football stadium, even in that time-stopped moment, fails to illuminate the scene at the distance where the players can see the ball. It takes a vast array of floodlights on a gantry to do that, tens of thousands of watts.

The use of bigger flash-bulbs is one option. However, megawatt flashes for use in landscape flash photography are difficult to get, and have problems associated with the amount of power in use.

Flash Astrophotography has another problem. Even if it's possible to get a supernova to detonate on cue, there is a delay because of the speed of light! Factoring this into the shutter timing is tricky.