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Tips & Tricks

Using Flash In Street Photography | How To Get Great Photos & Possibly Get Your Butt Kicked

By Kishore Sawh on September 2nd 2014

thomas-leuthard-street-photography-tips-1-2I think there is something inside most photographers that loves the idea of street photography. It seems like of the purer bastions of our field, a field where you’ll run across, with such frequency, the term ‘capturing moments,’ to the point where the phrase makes you physically ill. Or is that just me? Regardless, street photography, is very much the embodiment of that phrase, fair to say more so than any other genre.

Many of those past and present that are hailed as greats, were largely street photographers; Cartier-Bresson, Eugene Atget, Robert Frank, and now you have Eric Kim, Danny Santos Jr, and Martin Parr. All of them unique, and all of them uniquely brilliant. Differentiating yourself in that field can be tough, but there’s something about Thomas Leuthard that makes me think he is on his way. Mostly, it’s his use of flash in his street photography. It’s gutsy, and raw, and in this video (below) he shows how he does it, which is equal parts inspiring, and awe-inspiring.

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The thought of taking to the streets of some major metropolis donning a camera, even a small one, and shooting strangers is a slightly terrifying proposal for many, myself included. I can shoot the sh*t with the best of them and go up and speak to about anyone, but photograph strangers with or without them knowing? Not so much. Add to that momentarily blinding them with a bright burst from an SB-900 handheld whilst zoomed and in close proximity for a lens on the wider side? I’d rather walk through Tehran in a Star Of David T-Shirt.

Leuthard though, a Swiss native, doesn’t seem to flinch at the thought. At this point, an experienced street photographer in his own right, he’s travelled to major cities dotted around the globe and managed to develop a unique style, and pushed the envelope of what’s been done before. His images can straddle the line between paparazzi and documentary, but many really evoke emotion. His photos taken with flash are really interesting and add a cinematic flare to the mundane. Seeing him in action, however, really takes the cake. His approach seems to go against almost everything most street photographers will tell you about how to do it. He gets right up to his subjects, takes multiple photos of them, and of course, sometimes showers them in massive bursts of light.



What’s incredible to me is the subjects don’t seem to react poorly, nor get upset, and even give him smiles. Now, I don’t know if this is just a consequence of the cities he photographs, but I would probably warn you that should you try this in North America, there stands a good chance you’ll get your butt handed to you. You’ve been warned. That said, however, Leuthard does offer advice on how to do what he does, and it’s actually practical.

You can keep up with Leuthard on his every growing Flickr feed, Facebook, site, and his YouTube page for more great videos of him in action.

Images are screen captures from featured video

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Basit Zargar

    Dangerous thing ! Don’t want to be beaten in public :)

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  2. David Hall

    Not something I’ll try anywhere. Seems a bit dangerous.

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  3. Chuck Eggen

    Not something I’m going to try in NYC.

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  4. Andoni Silva

    Very nice Kishore! I was impressive! But he is taking pictures with an small camera, what about if you are travelling with a Nikon D800 with 24-70mm and mounted sb-900? I never didn’t try to take this kind of shoots, but trying similar shoots hidded the people is discovering your camera so easy… So guys, here is my question…

    How can we make the professional to shoot this kind of pictures with a big camera? :)

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    • Steven Pellegrino

      How many times have we heard “it’s not about the camera, it’s about the photographer”? I’ve seen both Steve McCurry and Jay Maisel use a DSLR for street photography. It’s all about the photographer’s confidence and lack of tension. This video from Chicago street photographer Chuck Jines might inspire you to hit the streets with your D800:

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  5. Steven Pellegrino

    It’s obvious watching this photographer that he is heavily influenced by Bruce Gilden:

    I think street photography is hard to define. Purists would say that what Eric Kim or Brandon Stanton (Humans of New York) does is not street photography. I think that Eric is probably a very good teacher. I find his articles interesting and certainly worth reading. Brandon’s work is “street photography” only that it’s photography that happens on the street and not because it captures anything interesting. Asking someone to pose for a street portrait is fine and good addition to a larger portfolio, but most wouldn’t consider it street photography in the classic sense.

    There is something in between unexpectedly shoving a flash in someone’s face and asking for permission and that’s certainly the level that I enjoy and personally shoot. Street photography, at any level, requires patience, skill, and above all a good eye to find the amazing photo in a mundane situation.

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  6. Tyler Friesen

    I am personally not a fan of street photography like this. I find it to be rude and obnoxious. I much prefer speaking to and asking permission to take someones photo. I am not saying its wrong but I definitely prefer the approach of The Sartorialist and Humans of New York as a good example of how to do street photography right. They engage the subject, build a relationship with them and ask for permission, which is much more appropriate in my eyes.

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    • Steven Pellegrino

      I don’t believe there is a right or wrong way to do street photography or any photography for that matter.There is what is right or wrong for you, but personally I love all of it. I have some great photos of people who didn’t know I was shooting them and with ones who did know. It all depends on what you’re looking to create.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Hi Tyler. It’s a tough call for me. On the one hand I find it intrusive, and borderline rude, but then again that could be my reserved Indian and British upbringing. On the other hand I think this achieves something you just can’t get without having the images be candid. It’s certainly not for everyone. I love being able to enjoy it, but I don’t think I could bring myself to be the one to do it.

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    • Tyler Friesen

      I agree with you completely Kishore. Steven I don’t disagree with you at all, I would be on the fence with it because there are thousands of journalist photos we wouldn’t be able to enjoy if someone didn’t have the balls to be a little rude with shooting them and I love a lot of those images. This shooting style is simply not for me, but I really enjoy some of the results. Not saying it wrong. There is definitely something special about a completely spontaneous image and something special about one that was built on a foundation of respect and relationship. The results are very different.

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  7. Steven Pellegrino

    You can’t talk about shooting street with a flash a not mention Bruce Gilden! He’s the king of flash street photography.

    Street photography is like anything else, you just need to get out there consistently and do it. The more you do it the less nervous you are and you take more chances and get better photos. I love street photography and typically go out three or four days a week in downtown St. Louis. It does help to have a mirrorless camera. Fuji X100 or X100s is really silent in silent mode which allows you to get close to people when you want to take candid shots. But they’re also interesting looking cameras and people ask about them. Those conversations turn into photo opportunities and gives you a chance to take a street portrait.

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