A few weeks ago, one of my Patreon patrons bought me some new gear off my Amazon Wishlist: my first flash called the Canon 430EX III-RT Speedlite. Yes, that's right, I've never owned a flash before. Those of you who have been here a long time may recall I've hardly even used a flash before. I'm pretty committedly natural-light. One might say I'm even a bit of a obstinate about it, at times.
Yet there's also a common maxim among photographers, which I reject, that goes every photographer should know how to work with any lighting set-up / arrangement (if they really want to call themselves a 'photographer'). Flash, included. Some photographers are absolutely puritanical about this belief. To them, knowledge of the technical aspects of the craft is of utmost importance; they'd eschew any so-called artist who says otherwise. To them, there's no room for play in photography. Only perfection. Only mastery.
The maxim has always struck me as, well, hollow. Even elitist. Not unlike the concept of professionalism. There's a sense of gate-keeping here. As if artistry belongs on a ladder of technical prowess—"great man" history, if you know the term, applied as both method and proof of success.
I've always believed that photography should be interesting, first. No matter really how one gets there. And like anything interesting, there's a good deal subjective about the process as there is about the final piece. In short? New gear didn't matter, beyond what I needed for my art. New lighting set-ups, new skills (outside the realm I needed) likewise would be superfluous. It was okay, even more than okay, to narrow myself into a specific kind of photography.
So why then did I have a flash on my Wishlist? (And still have both a Speedlite transmitter and portable softbox...) Simple. I like to learn; and natural light doesn't work for everything...
When Howin Wong, a friend/model of mine from an editorial last winter, asked me if I wanted to shoot a favor for him at night, my immediate reply was: "Do you happen to need a flash??" Turns out Howin did need a flash. And he needed me to learn/shoot the flash, to deliver the photos in time for a short deadline. Having done so now, I can't really say what's better: being forced to learn a skill on the clock, or being asked to adapt to the sight of your friend in a skimpy hot-pink thong.
A quick little bit about the pictures. I call them "#BDE," meaning "big dick energy." The series plays with fashion, social media trend, and persona. As Howin himself put it: Meet 23yo Billy Huang wearing a Dior top for @pechuga_vintage. Billy is a bisexual skater from Newport Beach, CA. His girlfriend Kayla doesn’t mind him kissing boys at the skate park—in fact, she likes to watch. You can check out his post, and the vintage store we shot for, by clicking here and here respectively.
I'm also weirdly in love with these images, and the new gear I used to create them.
Because maybe the truth is a little bit in the middle—as usual. New gear isn't necessary. Knowing how to do everything under the sun in photography doesn't make me a better artist. Nor does it earn me any particular respect or prowess or prize. It's okay to not know everything. And yet new gear can expand vision, just as working with somebody new or wrestling with a new idea/concept can expand vision. Sometimes being forced to learn is wonderful.