Part of a Whole

My name is Nicolas Steenhout.
I speak, train, and consult about inclusion, accessibility and disability.

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Flash Photography A Barrier To Participation

This morning, a professional photographer I follow on Twitter said: “Warning: If my flashing at the event botters [sic] you feel free to close your eyes.” It immediately reminded me of the very real barrier to some people created by flash photography at events.

Many people are "bothered" by flash photography at events, especially if it’s dark in the room.. It is indeed annoying to have bright flashes of light explode here and there around a darkish room. If it were only a mere annoyance, then, it wouldn’t be a problem. However, many people are extremely photosensitive – a sudden flash of bright light when their eyes are accustomed to a dark environment causes a variety of real problems.

For me, in most cases, flashes cause pain. One flash = searing pain for a few minutes. It also causes me to lose my vision momentarily. Sometimes for more than a few moments. I regularly end up looking at the world as if vaseline had been smeared on my eyeballs because of flash photography.

At times, flash also triggers migraines. Many people have that reaction. It is not always immediate, but people do get migraines as a result of photosensitivity combined with flash photography.

Then there are people who have epilpeptic seizures due to flash photography. These seizures are not usualy "spectacular". People don’t fall down on the ground and convulse, foam at the mouth. A seizure doesn’t have to be classified as a "grand mal" to be damaging. Repeated smaller seizures can cause permanent damage to the brain.

So yeah, for many people, flash photography at events & conference dinners is evil.

Where does that leave the professional photographer who’s job it is to take photos of people and of the event, where he has no choice but to use a flash? He needs to earn a living, no doubt about that. She needs to use her flash. This is a case of one need conflicting with another.

If someone is susceptible to seizures due to flash photography, in a way it is their responsibility not to place themselves in a situation that is dangerous to them. But that means that they would end up living like recluse. No good. Where is the balance point? I don’t know, to be honest.

But it would be nice if photographers weren’t so flippant about people being "annoyed" by flashes. It’s all well and good to say "if it annoys you, close your eyes", but if you don’t know when the flash is coming, that means you’ll end up with your eyes closed for the duration of the evening! A bit of consideration would be welcome.