(All images copyrighted by Dirty Harrry)
Eric’s Note: For this article I am pleased to feature the thoughts about Dirty Harrry, a prolific street photographer from Crete in Greece. His images shot with flash are not only surreal but technically well done. Make sure to also check out my interview with him here, and see his images on Flickr.
Hi Eric, thanks for your invitation once again here. My words may be obvious and don’t consider them “rules”. However these are my observations after shooting for 3 years with a flash in my street photography.
I have shot with street photography and flash in 4 different ways:
1. The built-in flash
Sometimes the built-in flash is a a good way to shoot rapidly when I don’t want to carry all the extra equipment with me. It’s also a good solution when I am out shooting without a flash, and I quickly want to put more light to something. It is quick, as all you have to do is hit the flash button– without having to change any other settings.
2. An external flash attached to the hotshoe of the camera
The second way brings more or less the same result with the built-in flash. However it allows you to shoot subjects that are further away. Also the external charge charges more rapidly. Sometimes the built-in flash needs time to recharge- which can cause you to lose the decisive moment if something interesting happens.
3. A flash attached to the to the hotshoe of the camera through a cable
This is a good way to control the direction of the lights and shadows. Also this allows you to create more dramatic lighting from the side, compared to the flat look of the built-in flash or the flash on the hotshoe.
4. An external flash used wirelessly without any remote connection with the camera
This is what I have been using the most lately. It permits me to have a focused subject and a blurry backround. Sometimes it is necessary in street portraits, as the optical noise of the background can be really awful. This also allows me to make double or triple exposures with the flash in bulb mode. These multiple flash shots sometimes come from a combination of the built in flash and the external one.
Something I haven’t tried is shooting flash street photography with a remote wireless external flash with without a cable. The reason is that the final result is the same with the cable– so I never bought one.
It’s interesting to experiment with the position of the flash and camera. Generally speaking, the distance from the subject and this position mentioned above is always responsible for the final photo. However let’s hope that there will be more ways to check out in the future and not get bored from what we already have seen.
I never shoot in automatic mode. Don’t use any speed priority, any aperture priority, any automatic iso, and no autofocus. I use my camera as if it was an old analog camera. I think street photography’s destiny is only in full manual mode–this is the only way to shoot the photo rapidly and exactly as we want it to be produced.
I don’t want any reduction of the light coming out of the flash, so I shoot with full power. I tried once to shoot with a napkin i front of it so that i get a more soft effect, but i didn’t like the final result. It seemed to me more like wedding photos than photos of mine.
Generally remains closed from f7.1 – f8 or more closed to achieve a good depth of field.
It depends: sometimes high iso, sometimes low. When I first started to use the flash i made 2-3 clicks before starting to shoot normally to see which settings are the best ones for the specific conditions every time. More or less now i know what to put in the settings each time, if there is afterwards an under or over exposure I have to correct it in the exposure of the raw file.
As you can see the difference is not important, the lighting conditions speak everytime about how high or low the iso must be. I believe the variety in changing the ISO settings in a DSLR camera is a big advantage of the digital age. Compare this to changing a specific film that was put in an analog camera and it has to be replaced by an other more or less sensitive film if the lighting conditions have changed quickly.
I usually set the camera to 1/200 sec, 1/250, 1/20, 1/25, 1/30 or the bulb mode. This is what will make the background focused or blurry. It depends if i want a totally frozen moment or a “floating” image. In daylight sometimes an ND filter is needed for shooting an image in low speed, cause there’s too much light that can burn big parts of the frame.
Many times when low speed is set, if the distance with the subject isn’t close enough not only the background will appear blurry, but the subject will also be blurry. Sometimes the image will appear ok this way, but most of the times it doesn’t .So once again, the key is to shoot closely.
Flash street photography requires quick reactions. And of course it needs guts. But just guts is not the purpose– it’s just a motivating power for shooting whatever someone wants to shoot.
Photography isn’t a martial art. A photographer needs to have some sort of concept in his mind about what he wants to tell through his photographs. Shooting with a flash without having this understanding won’t make his photos better.
The flash is not a magic wand that makes magical photos. Shooting with a flash is not an aim for me– it’s just a tool. A tool that can help me to create the light that i want each time. When I need it I use it. When I don’t, I don’t use it.
The truth is that a lot of the times that I use it in the night I have drunk some alcohol before.. Sometimes it makes me see things that i can’t see when my mind is totally clear.. This is not a tip..I just like to go out and shoot photos with or without flash.
For those of you who shoot street photography with a flash, any other sorts of tips or advice you would give anybody who might want to experiment?