I recently started using a flash in Street Photography to create a more dramatic light, especially when the day is cloudy and doesn’t provide interesting light on its own. In this article, I want to share my first experiences, pictures, and tips on how to use the flash, when you are doing Street Photography.
The Gear & Exposure for Flash Street Photography
I am using a Viltrox Speedlite flash with a Wansen Controller. Both together cost about 40 Euro and work absolutely fine. Though one disadvantage is that this flash doesn’t have the capability to use TTL, which stands for Through-The-Lense. TTL basically is the auto modus for your flash. If you have a system that allows the use of TTL metering, the settings will adjust automatically to expose the picture correctly.
With simple off-camera flashes, you have to expose manually. This means that you not only have to set the flash to the settings you want to have but that you also need to have the camera in manual mode. Otherwise, the auto-mode will expose for the picture without accounting in the flash. Due to that, every picture will be overexposed, if you don’t take the flash into consideration for the manual mode. To expose correctly takes some practice and some test shots but to be on the safe side you can also underexpose a little and then adjust the exposure in post-processing. Once the picture is overexposed you won’t be able to recover the burned-out highlights, so underexposing allows for some margin of error that is fixable in post-processing.
How to get started photographing with a flash on the street?
Shooting Street Photography with a flash felt like experiencing the genre for the first time again. Everything felt new and was different. But this also meant that I had the initial thoughts about negative repercussions and how people would perceive me. That they might be more aggressive when being photographed with a flash instead of only the street photography camera.
So I used strategies I also used when starting in Street Photography. I went out to shoot with a friend and once I felt comfortable enough to shoot alone with a flash I went to big events where most people are used to being photographed.
Additionally, not only the mental presents a burden but also the “craft” of taking pictures has to be learned from scratch again. You can’t focus entirely on the framing and let the camera set the exposure to the natural light. With a flash, you are responsible for the light and also the exposure. Different light setups can create different atmospheres. Light from below fabricates a scary mood.
But won’t people react more aggressively?
This is probably one of the most asked questions and from my anecdotal perspective, I had the total opposite happen. The last time I went to shoot on the street I tried to warm up without the flash. Just as I took my first picture I got yelled at and which kind of lunatic I represent etc.
Once I started using the flash everyone either had a very confused look (What is he doing?) or were just seeing it as a joke. They didn’t take me seriously and I was able to get close up shots without getting negative reactions with the help of a small compact camera.
If you are interested to attempt this type of Street Photography yourself, try to get your hands on a simple setup, grab a friend and go to an easy location with a lot of people coming by. It might not be easy at first, a lot of pictures might be over- or underexposed but the learning experience is great and in general, the flash allows you to work a scene totally differently. Especially on uninspiring cloudy days, it is great to have the flash working for you and lighting the scene allowing you to realize your vision of the street more precisely.