Street photography is one of the most appreciated genres in photography. By showing daily life in a new way, it can speak to everyone. That explains why some of the most famous photographers are street photographers: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Vivian Maier, Martin Parr, Diane Arbus, or Joel Meyerowitz. They created iconic pictures by finding the right moment to catch the interesting details that no one else could have seen.
The Use of Flash in Street Photography
Whereas street photography requires few elements (basically a camera and a public place), its practice can be enriched with the use of other equipment. One of them is interesting here, despite it being rarely used: the flash. Usually, flash is used indoor to light and control the exposure of a subject, or outdoor to deal with harsh light. In both cases, the subject is aware that he or she is going to be flashed.
In street photography, however, using a flash creates surprise and stupor, and sometimes a bit of anger when the power of flash is too aggressive. Street photographs created using a flash have yet a unique atmosphere. So, how could we keep the interesting part of the use of flash in street photography and avoid bothering people? One answer: infrared flash!
How Does an Infrared Flash Work?
Infrared flash works the same way than traditional flash, but here the emitted light is only composed of infrared rays. As human eyes are not sensitive to infrared light, this implies that the flash light is invisible. Of course, if you want the light to be seen by your camera, you also must use a converted one for infrared photography. This way, you are ready to discover a new way to practice street photography.
Infrared flash technique was already used by Weegee in a movie theatre, where he asked his students to act in certain ways, laughing and kissing. As it was not proper street photography, it was a great introduction to the potential of this technique.
‘Underground’: a Unique Dive in the Parisian Subway Using Infrared Flash
Underground is a long-term photographic project started in the Paris subway during the autumn of 2017. Thought as a succession of scenes of life in the darkness, this project presents dark and undefined environments in which human beings are absorbed by their daily.
The main purpose of this series is the illustration of an imperceptible underground life where the artificial light of the urban environment is absent. Only the photographer’s flash reveals the scenes taking place in front of him, giving a claustrophobic and anxiety-filled feelings to the moments captured. In the subway, a parallel can be made between the subjects going to work and miners moving in dark underground hoses with no visible purpose.
The fixed attitudes alternate between moving in endless corridors, searching for invisible ways, or using stairs leading to unknown levels.
This series was shot before the COVID restrictions, explaining why nobody wears mask. At this moment, I had to use a homemade infrared flash system, but now Kolari Vision has developed a complete one for both UV and infrared photography.
What about you: have you already successfully used a flash for street photography? Could the infrared option be a help for your projects?
About the author: Pierre-Louis Ferrer is a professional infrared photographer who aims to reveal the world beyond the visible. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. To learn more about infrared photography, you can take his infrared workshop in Paris. You can find more of Ferrer’s work on his website, Facebook, and Instagram.