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My Fascination With Strobe

My interest in photography I date to 41 years ago. Back then, electronic flash – especially studio quality strobes – was the Holy Grail. It was that book on the top shelf I couldn’t reach. It was expensive. It had allure. And the photographers I followed – Bert Stern in particular – used it. What drew me to it – what still does – is the look it imparts to a photograph. Light is light, ’tis true. But the brief duration of a strobe somehow makes its way onto an image. It imparts a sense of immediacy – of time interrupted. One of my favorite quotes by Richard Avedon – the death of the moment – somehow seems more real to me with an image taken with strobe. This feeling has never left. Strobe is in my DNA. It is in my psyche. And it sure is in my images. To me this image encapsulates much of what strobe does for me and my photography.

It’s an outdoor, environmental shot, so would think that strobe wouldn’t be needed. And the photograph can indeed be made without it. In fact, using strobe makes things very much more complicated. I can only shoot at the highest sync speed my camera will allow for shutter speed. This is not fast enough to stop action – the strobe must do that. Which it can do, but there must be enough difference between the ambient exposure and the flash exposure to ensure that the ambient does not “bleed through”, which, unfortunately, it has a tendency to do. You get dark edges best case in those areas that moved during the exposure. You get motion blur in the worst case.

So why do it?

See that sky? Notice the exposure difference between the dancer and it? Well, that’s one reason.

Another reason to me is the feel of the image. It is being exposed at only 1/200 of a second, and yet there is a sense of motion frozen. Frozen by light, not the shutter. That’s something I can’t get over.

Even in the studio, where it’s obvious, strobe has a quality to it. I like it. It’s me. And I like to think it brings out the best in my imagery.

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