Flag Day: challenges of flag photography


Many countries have a Flag Day and 14 June is the American Flag Day. The Stars and Stripes was adopted on 14 June 1777.

I love flags. I’m a keen vexilogologist. I can watch the TED talkWhy city flags may be the worst-designed thing you’ve never noticed‘ by Roman Mars over and over again. I’ve had books on the subject since I was a boy. Now of course there’s Wikipedia. Take time to watch the video. It’s inspiring and eye-opening.

I love flags and I love heraldry. I may not be an expert. I can’t remember the correct terms for describing shapes, colours and designs on flags and coats of arms, but I love them. Why? Because they bring together history and geography.


So whenever I see flags and coats of arms, I feel an urge to photograph them. Especially when I’m travelling. I just impose it on my travel mates.

Yes, impose, because taking photos of flags is demanding.

Challenges of flag photography

First, there needs to be enough wind. The bigger the flag, the heavier the fabric so the more wind you need. You want that flag as complete and as visible as possible. The more complex the design the more wind demanding. It’s easier to take of a photo of the flag of Belgium than of the flag of the United States. This one was taken between Alcatraz and San Francisco.


The flag of Portugal, with its escutcheon, poses a challenge.


Secondly, light. As with any photography, backlight is a b*tch. So you need the right perspective.

Pole on the left. Ideally, the pole or mast stand on the left. That’s how flags are represented. We know the flag of France to be blue, white and red, not the other way round. Here’s an example of how you don’t want it. These are the flags of Castilla-La Mancha, Spain and the European Union


Proximity and perspective. You don’t want to have to zoom in too much and ideally  you get a good straight perspective.

Colours. Sometimes colours of flags can vary. The blue in the flag of Sweden can be mat or bright. The Star of David in the flag of Israel on this picture is another blue han the blue stripes….

Five challenges which make flag photography a difficult exercise. This means you need time and patience. And perhaps more importantly, so do your travel buddies.

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