Home Newsletter Locations Diary




Can Flash Damage Anything

Have you heard it said that you cannot photograph art and similar items as the light from your flash will damage them. So is this true, and what can be done to reduce any possible damage.

Lets clear this up straight away, it is not true, you cannot damage art or other items by photographing them with a flash unit. Let me explain why.

A flash is very short, and the time varies a bit but shall we say around a thousandth of a second. So although the flash looks bright it has exposed the object to very little light. If we were to divide the resulting flash light by a thousand, it would be weak, divide this weak light by 360, and we get the equivalent of light for an hour. By now we are down to such a low light its hardly noticeable. Its so low that even if every visitor took a flash photo of an item it would be a far lower light exposure than having a single light bulb on in the room.

What if we had a constant movie light as bright as a flash that was on all the time, would this cause damage. Somewhere between possibly and probably is the answer, depending on how many hours it was on and the type of light. The potential damage could come about in two ways, firstly the heat a light of such a power would be likely to produce, and secondly from the tendency for certain wavelengths to cause some items to fade.  The fading effects would be minimal if the light was not on for an excessive time, so commercial filming for a fee, TV programmes and the like can be done, with little risk of any damage.

Items that we want to display in direct light that may fade can be protected with museum glass, this is special glass that filters out the waveforms that cause fading to occur. Some of the better collectable art is sold with museum glass in place. Museum glass allows most of the light to pass, with minimal to no reflection, so images are clearer and brighter than when put behind other glass forms.  So it follows that we could also use museum glass as a filter in front of a light to cut out the waveforms that could cause fading, with next to no reduction on the light.

We could also cut a small piece of museum glass to use as a filter on a flash unit, and while not necessary it could perhaps eliminate the fears of those who still may claim that flash photography could affect the items being photographed. Although there is no reason to actually do this, it can be easily achieved using a sample available from glass manufacturers or importers or off cuts from framers.

A couple of times it has been suggested that its to safeguard the health of volunteers by not exposing them to flash, which is a crazy suggestion, after all Royalty, pop stars and others in the headlines are constantly photographed with flash, often hundreds of flashes going off,  and no harm has come to them.

Another suggestion is that other visitors do not like the flashes going off, but again there is no evidence that any noticeable proportion of the population objects to flash. You don't hear of people avoiding going to wedding receptions and social events as they don't like flash photography taking place.

Security is the next excuse, they don't want photos that could be used by those who may break in. As if concealed cameras, watch cameras, camera phones and similar would not be able to be used by anyone for this purpose. Its also nonsense in that they will sell guide books, and have photos on their website, hire out the place for filming and parties, and welcome the publicity that comes from short visits filmed and shown in antique shows and the like, pointing out the exceptional pieces.

So if possible flash damage is not true and there is no real reason to stop flash photography why do people and organisations that should know better sometimes suggest it could. Often its just ignorance of the facts and lack of thought, particularly where volunteers are being used, a misconception that has not been corrected.

Some organisations also own their own picture libraries, sell postcards and prints, as well as guide books, so there's a financial advantage to them in limiting flash photography. Like any other restrictions on photography it is counter productive from an income perspective as the keen photographer will, in most cases, just not visit, pay for entry but go somewhere that is photographer friendly instead.


By:  Keith Park  Section:  Heritage Key:
Page Ref: Can_flash_damage Topic: Heritage Last Updated: 06/2009

This page:

Link directly to this page, with text or the button on right.

Text linking:  Can flash damage anything on Photographers Resource

Linking Instructions                            http://www.photographers-resource.co.uk/

Photographers Resource, all the information for the photographer