Your flash can’t light a cathedral

The scene is Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, during the middle of an evening service. You see a person standing to one side of the alter, in the transept, looking across at one of the massive rose windows. The digital camera comes up, the window is magnified as much as possible, and then there is a sudden flash that distracts every one of the hundreds of the people in the cathedral but doesn’t provide nearly enough light for a proper exposure. On the camera’s screen, a very underexposed version of the window appears.

Normally, this is the end of things. Some people go on from here to deactivate their flash and take a second photo. This one is both hopelessly grainy (because the camera has automatically chosen the highest possible ISO setting) and completely blurred (because hand-holding a 1/2 second shot of a distant magnified object inside a darkened cathedral doesn’t work).

Obviously, I am someone who appreciates the practice of photography. As such, it pains me triply to see people taking photos in a distracting way, poorly, and in a space where such touristic incursions aren’t polite or appropriate.

Moral of the story: your flash cannot illuminate Notre Dame Cathedral. It cannot illuminate the Super Bowl or the moon either. If you are photographing these things, have the kindness, intelligence, and courtesy to turn it off. Then, make sure to at least brace against a wall, to help deal with the long exposure.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

4 thoughts on “Your flash can’t light a cathedral”

  1. Note to tourists: firing your flash inside the observation pod of the CN Tower is even worse than firing it inside the Notre Dame Cathedral.

    In the cathedral, you at least add a tiny bit of light. Firing your flash at the glass of the viewing pod just creates a very bright reflection that drowns out the city lights you actually wanted to photograph.

    Just brace your camera on the railing and take a long exposure without flash. You can even do it with an iPhone.

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