Flash grenades for photographic lighting


in Geek stuff, Photography, Science

I have frequently pointed out the pointlessness of people using the built-in flashes on their cameras to try to light cathedrals, scenic vistas, stadiums, and the like. It should be self-evidently obvious that these small, AA-powered flashes are incapable of such a task. That said, it does seem plausible that many (even most) photographers simply use their cameras in a fully automatic mode, substituting its limited judgment for their own.

Despite all that, I had a curious thought the other night when looking across at Parliament from Champlain Hill. I know that the military and law enforcement agencies use flash grenades to surprise and disorient people inside buildings. I wonder whether it could be possible to use one or more such devices to produce photographic illumination of giant or distant objects. As long as you used a shutter speed longer than the time it takes them to flash, it should be possible to make use of their light, and triggering them could be as simple as using the radio triggers commonly employed with conventional flashes.

I wonder whether anyone has ever tried such a thing…

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Matt April 7, 2010 at 9:13 pm

Although it’s completely possible there are many types of such grenade, aren’t they typically referred to as flash/bang grenades? I have personally heard one once, and the bang is not to be underestimated. They are extremely loud. I suspect the damage they’d cause to the cathedral would be… undesirable.

R.K. April 7, 2010 at 9:16 pm

Are the flash and the bang produced by the same means?

If not, this might be possible. For instance, if the flash came from powdered magnesium burning.

In any event, I suspect this would be a safer approach for lighting things outdoors, rather than inside them.

coyote April 7, 2010 at 10:55 pm

There are historical precedents for this. In the Second World War, and probably others since, high flying bombers & reconnaissance aircraft sometimes took photographs of subjects below at night after dropping photoflash bombs that burst high to illuminate large areas. I imagine there was a bang when something like that ignited, whether it used magnesium or something else…

On a smaller, but still large, scale, O. Winston Link in the 1950s took striking photos of trains passing at night, using a view camera and elaborate systems of dozens of very large synched flashbulbs, about the size of regular lightbulbs.

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