First Impressions: Shooting Street Photography with a Flash

Street photography is a way of capturing candid photos of people in their own worlds and environments. It can sometimes be hard to muster up the courage to stand two feet away from someone and take their picture. It can be even more difficult to do this with a camera in one hand and a flash in the other, while both are simultaneously pointed at said person(s). I’ve been exploring a lot of different forms of street photography since a few months back when I started and I have to say its one of the greatest experiences I have ever done. I’ve been out now about four times with a flash. Here is what I know.

Photo taken by Tyler Bedgood. Licence Attribution. Click image for more info including exif data.

Despite what I thought, it turns out you are NOT more likely to get hit in the face whilst using your flash. 

This is quite interesting actually. I was totally in my head before I went out the first time with a flash. I thought about it too much (never think about shooting too much, you’ll talk yourself out of it). I was under the impression that using a flash would draw more attention to me. That it would make the people more aware and more aggravated. After I finally worked up enough guts to go out, or rather, forced myself to go out with my guts in my throat for the first hour, I got used to it and guess what! People act exactly the same way as they do if you don’t have a flash. Most don’t care or notice, some look at you strange and you smile or avoid eye contact and walk away, and even fewer ask you if you just took their picture. To which I sometimes respond “yes, I like your X” and sometimes “no, that thing behind you” depending on their intonation. You would think that a flash would be more noticeable than a camera shooting off in your direction and it might be, but the take away is that people don’t react more aggressively.

Photo taken by Tyler Bedgood. Licence Attribution. Click image for more info including exif data.

Shooting with your flash in one hand and camera in the other is freaking great, and not as hard as I thought.

When I first watched videos of Bruce Gilden or Thomas Leuthard shooting in the streets with a flash I thought to myself “but I usually have two hands on my camera at all times, how can I do that!” It took a little experimenting in the mirror at home but it all boiled down to an f8, 1/40th shutter, 400 iso, and a zone focused camera at about 3 feet. Results may vary and I often switched up the intensity of my flash for going head to toe framing vs head to waist. That is my basic set up and it seems to work well. The best part about having a flash free from the camera is the ability to move it wherever you would like. You can shoot it from above, from below, from the side, from different angles, it’s amazing. I really find it to be great because I can get a feel for my subject(s) as I approach and determine the lighting I want for the picture I am about to take. If they look sad, happy, blank, tired, lost, confused etc… I can decide how I want my flash to add or subtract from those feelings.

Photo taken by Tyler Bedgood. Licence Attribution. Click image for more info including exif data.

Using a flash adds one more element to think about, but don’t think about it. 

One thing that become difficult for me at first was having to worry about all my camera settings and then in addition, all my flash settings. I haven’t really used flash before so this was all new to me. I went out to shoot and was constantly thinking about how strong my flash should be and at what zoom distance should it be set to. I came to realize, after a little bit of shooting that this way of thinking was not working. So I set up my camera and my flash and then left it. If you are going for full body shots then set your stats and leave them that way until you want to shoot something else. It’s tough to do this because you become afraid of missing that defining moment that might have looked better in a frame that you are not set up to capture. However, just like using a lens with one focal length it helps to use a flash with one setting of power and distance. If you see that defining moment shoot it with the framing you are set up for. Do it without thinking. If it turns out bad then get the next one and so on and so forth. If you waste time adjusting your flash (or your cameras settings) then you’ll miss the shot all together.

Photo taken by Tyler Bedgood. Licence Attribution. Click image for more info including exif data.

A flash is a flash that adds flash to a photo.

Shooting street photography with a flash is very fun. You don’t get punched in the face and most of the time no one even notices. It gives me a chance to capture moments that I would not be able to capture otherwise. It presents each photo with its own feel that can help add to the emotion of the subject as well as the photo overall. Next, I want to try shooting with a flash in daylight.

Have you ever shot in the streets with a flash? What do you think about using a flash for street photography? How do you or would you do it? Let me know in the comments below and thanks for viewing. 

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About Tyler Bedgood

I have a passion for composition, lighting, and editing.
This entry was posted in Flash, Photos, Street Photography. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to First Impressions: Shooting Street Photography with a Flash

  1. brianhawley365 says:

    Way to go. I’ve tried this before with the off camera setup. It was loads of fun. A tip if you want something easy and very discrete is to get a shitty point and shoot camera and crank the flash and blast away. There is a long movie about daido moriyamas street photos on YouTube to watch him in action with his Ricoh gr1. His camera of course was the best point and shooter; I like this method so much I’m going to upgrade to one of those.

    • Brian, thanks for the comment man! Yeah it is super fun. I’ve always been interested by a Point and Shoot, but I think ill be sticking with my camera for a bit until It stops working or I desperately need something new. It would be nice to have a smaller camera in the streets though. I’m going to check out your blog here shortly! Thanks again.

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