1) – Dear compact camera manufacturers,

Most of the people who buy your cameras leave them in ‘A’ mode for their entire lives. While some of your customers may conclude that the little lightning-bolt icon beside the D-pad has something to do with the flash, figuring out the correct button sequence to disable the flash is beyond them. Yes, I know on most cameras you just need to press that button repeatedly until an icon appears of the lightning bolt behind the ‘prohibited’ circle, but this seems to be a leap too far for most people.

Unfortunately, since these people can’t figure out how to disable their flash, all photography is banned in many places where it might otherwise be nice to take the odd picture. Cheers guys, another triumph for lousy human interface design.

2) – Dear world,

The tiny flash unit on your compact camera is not a magical device. Despite the impression you may have gained by blinding your friends and family with horrible white light from the worst possible direction, the flash is not a ‘make the dark go away’ button. Notably, when used in large spaces such as music festivals or ancient ruins, it achieves almost nothing, except to irritate everyone nearby. It might light up a statue directly in front of you (providing you don’t stand too close, of course) if you’re lucky.


I realise photography is also banned in the tombs to sell more merchandise, but I’m still tempted to start smashing the flash lamp on every compact I see. It’d improve the mean quality of photos on FaceBook considerably; they’d either be better pictures, or pitch black – a plan with no drawbacks that I can see.

Posted Saturday, April 12th, 2008 under photography.

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  1. Best situations in which I’ve seen people use their flash:

    1) Fireworks display.

    2) Lunar eclipse. (“No, look, I know it’s scary, but that’s not going to make the moon come back.”)

  2. 3) – Dear James,

    Despite the large numbers of stupid people in the world (many of whom really are very stupid), believe it or not there are some people who are more than capable of using a camera effectively; complete with charged battery. Even, dare I say it, a compact Canon.

    Personal highlights of stupid people using a flash:
    – the surprise in Thien Cung cave
    – floodlit Cristo Redentor
    – every sunrise/sunset

  3. I’m well aware there are plenty of people who can achieve great results with their compact cameras, Canon or otherwise, especially when equipped with a charged battery. However, such people do not earn my ire, which you should visualise much like the eye of Sauron, as a sort of burning force of pure hatred the gazes out upon the world from a tower of tortured souls.

    It most especially gazes out at small children who kick the back of my seat on aeroplanes. Their screams will endure for many years. But people who don’t understand their flashes are a close second. Perhaps some kind of test is called for, as in many other areas of human folly.

  4. Also, there are about a bazillion compact cameras where the auto flash is always on and can’t be turned off by the user. Not always a user error 🙂

  5. Claire – I’m pretty sure that on almost every camera ever made, the flash can be turned off – the problem is how. Hence my blaming poor (non-existent, usually) interface design, which compact cameras seem almost the worst offenders for, partly due to lack of physical space for buttons. Bad interface != user error: http://www.amazon.com/Design-Everyday-Things-Donald-Norman/dp/0385267746

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