10 Things I Learned Shooting Flash Street Photography At Toronto Pride

flash street photography - gay pride - no place to hide

Photo © Karl Edwards – Click To Enlarge

Gay Pride Day can be a wonderful opportunity for street photographers as thousands of people coming together for a tremendous celebration of the life and spirit of the gay community. I’ve been shooting Toronto Pride for several years but my decision to shoot flash at this year’s celebration presented a whole new set of challenges. Hit the jump for 10 things I learned shooting flash street photography at Toronto Pride.

Flash Street Photography At Toronto Pride

flash street photography - toronto pride- history of pride

Photo © Karl Edwards – Click To Enlarge

Modern Gay Pride celebrations can trace their roots back to the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Villange in New York City. Gay bars had been subject to regular police raids and arrests for years but on June 28, 1969 the bar’s 200 patrons stood up to the bullying and refused to be arrested. As the police waited for backup, a crowd gathered outside and the police were trapped in the bar. The situation quickly escalated to violence as the LGBTQ community stood their ground and the gay rights movement was energized in a way nobody expected.

The cops were “stonewalled” that night but the LGBTQ community realized the power and liberation of gathering in large numbers. Over the next few decades Pride celebrations started appearing all over North America with a spirit of celebration that stands in stark contrast to the persecution that brought the Stonewall riots to a head.

I’ve been shooting Gay Pride in Toronto as long as I can remember. Partly to celebrate alongside my LGBTQ brothers and sisters but mostly because the spirit of the day is infectious. It’s nothing short of inspiring to be around such positive energy!

But this year I decided to ONLY shoot flash street photography and concentrate on the character of the people I was shooting rather than worry about complex compositions. Plus I just dig the way flash street photography looks!

Here are a few things I learned along the way…

Because The Night

flash street photography - gay pride - shoot at night

Photo © Karl Edwards – Click To Enlarge

I love beautiful light and it inspires me to shoot more. Sometimes I think I’ve conditioned myself to only shoot when the light is beautiful and put the camera away when it’s high noon or rainy. But flash street photography has opened up a whole new world of possibilities as I can comfortably shoot anywhere at any time of day. Even at night.

Of course, Cameras like the Sony A7S Mk II let you shoot with incredibly high ISO making night street photography possible without using flash. But the Sony interface was always too much of an obstacle for me so I never jumped on that train. Flash exposes the night as a whole new world waiting to be discovered. And I get to keep using the gear I love!

I was able to go into the beer gardens and night parties and shoot my face off without batting an eye. I could get right in the middle of the action at any of these parties and balance the flash to the ambient light in creative ways that left me longing to see what I was shooting. It was difficult to not constantly chimp just to see how cool the shots looked!

There’s more than one way to skin that cat but shooting flash really worked for me!

Think Outside The Box

Flash Street Photography - Gay Pride Toronto - Documentary

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You know how actors always say that they really want to direct? Well, I think a lot of street photographers also aspire to documentary photography. We still want to make excellent pictures but without the constraints of strict candids and found images.

Don’t be afraid to open your mind to the possibilities while shooting a large scale event like Gay Pride. If the tricky street shots aren’t showing up then think about documenting the world for a bit instead. You never know when a decent image from another genre is about to present itself. Be ready when it does!

Get That Flash Off Your Camera!

flash street photography gay pride - off camera flash

Photo © Karl Edwards – Click To Enlarge

Images shot with an on-camera flash tend to look flat and clinical. Which is fine if that’s what you’re after but I love the freedom of shooting with off camera flash. Every shot is a new opportunity to experiment with the angle of the light and tons of interesting results have appeared as a result.

Angle the flash up for an interesting effect in a crowded space. Partially block the flash with your hand or a stranger’s body to add drama. Or just create a more traditional angle of light to fool the eye. The possibilities are endless.

But you gotta get that flash off your camera!

True Colors

Flash Street Photography - Gay Pride Toronto - True Colors

Photo © Karl Edwards – Click To Enlarge

I typically underexpose the background by about 1 stop when I shoot with flash. This creates a bit of atmosphere (without looking gimmicky) and really makes the colors in the foreground pop.

Underexposing the background can be a bit tricky depending on the ambient light and the sync speed of your camera/flash combo. My camera’s flash sync was 1/250s and I normally shoot at 1/1000s so I needed reduce exposure by 3 stops to get the effect I was after. I dropped the ISO to 100 and stopping down to f11 or f/16 depending on the scene which got me through most situations. But I would definitely keep a 3 stop ND filter on hand for future outings.

Or you could just shoot with a Fuji X100F – that leaf shutter will sync at pretty much any speed!

Close Quarters

flash street photography - toronto gay pride - tight corners

Photo © Karl Edwards – Click To Enlarge

Toronto Pride attracts nearly 1,000,000 people every year so it’s going to be wall to wall people wherever you look. You need to be comfortable shooting up close and personal. Even with a big honking flash in your hand!

Let your subject’s natural charisma carry the shot and let the background frame the moment naturally. It’s not always possible to compose on the spot so trust your instincts and everything you’ve learned about composition up until this very moment. Frame your shot naturally and the results will surprise you!

One thing to watch out for is flash exposure when shooting up close. Manual flash exposure is actually quite easy and predictable once you get the hang of it but when your subject is right on top of your camera you’re going to need to compensate for that close distance. If I’m shooting with off camera flash I’ll just move the flash back a couple feet but you could also stop your lens down a bit (if you have the room).

If you’re just learning to shoot with flash then chimp your shots to gauge your exposure. You’ll get the hang of it in no time!

Nobody Cares That You’re Shooting Flash

flash street photography - toronto pride - people will look at you

Photo © Karl Edwards – Click To Enlarge

A lot of photographers (myself included) find shooting with flash intimidating. How will people react when you “flash” them?

But the reality is that flash is not an assault. It’s just light and shooting with flash does not affect your subject anymore than a simple lightbulb. A few people stopped and gave me looks but I just smiled and wished them a happy pride and we both went on our merry ways.

The real trick is concentrate on finding excellent images and forget about finding flash images.

It’s All About The Queens

flash street photography - gay pride - why shoot flash?

Photo © Karl Edwards – Click To Enlarge

Gay Pride Day is a balls-to-the-wall celebration and no party is complete without drag queens!

Over-the-top performers decked out in their most outrageous outfits pepper the streets and everyone is having a blast. Frankly, these guys are hilarious and very rarely take themselves too seriously. So have fun with it!

Of course, you need to use your head and steer clear of making fun of your subjects. But there’s no need to be afraid of humor when shooting at Pride.

Don’t Forget The Background

Flash street photography - toronto pride - watch the background

Photo © Karl Edwards – Click To Enlarge

Flash shooters often concentrate on the character of their subjects and treat the rest of the frame like a backdrop. But if you do that at an event like pride you’re missing out on a world of opportunity. Watch out for juxtapositions and other points of interest that you can include in your images. I remember noticing how much dog’s tail matched the shape of the drag queen’s hair in the background and couldn’t resist lining them up.

These kinds of things are tough to spot in camera. Especially at an event like Pride I tend to watch for potential images with my eyes and only raise the camera when I’m ready to shoot. Becasue I’m a one lens kind of shooter, I’m almost always in the right position for what I saw and the shots come tend to come together nicely.

Of course you’re at the mercy of the world with things like this. Most days I never see anything interesting at all!

There Will Be Skin

flash street photography toronto pride - see some skin

Photo © Karl Edwards – Click To Enlarge

The gay community tends to have a very progressive stand on all things sexual and there’s no shortage of skin on display at a typical Pride day. There are plenty of heated discussions about consent and nudity at public events like Pride and I’m not going to engage in that debate. But I will say that just about nobody wants to be stalked by a dirty old man with a big old telephoto lens. That’s just creepy!

If you’re in it just to see some tits or ass then do us all a favor and stay home and watch a porno.

Not Everyone Is Going To Be A Fan

flash street photography - gay pride - no place to hide

Photo © Karl Edwards – Click To Enlarge

You’re going to experience a lot more confrontation shooting flash street photography.

I know, I know… I said nobody cares that you’re shooting flash. But I think the people who are up in arms about having their picture taken in the first place are going to be even more upset if you shoot them with flash.

Why would anyone care any more if you shoot them with flash? It’s impossible to say but I think it’s the brazen nature of the act. I remember seeing a news story about an old lady in England who foiled a bank robbery by smiting the would be robbers over the head with her purse as they tried to get away. When asked why she took this drastic measure she responded, “What, they think they’re going to just rob a bank? In broad daylight?”

She seemed more upset that the robbers didn’t have the sense to commit their crime under the cover of night. When all terrible things happen! LOL!

If somebody thinks you don’t have the right to take their picture and you use a flash on top of everything else it might seem as if you’re flaunting your disrespect for their wishes in their face. Whatever the cause, you can expect to run into problems a bit more often when you’re shooting flash street photography.

Be prepared, be respectful and be honest. Then get back to the business of making images!


Check out the Two Cute Dogs Guide to Flash Street Photography for some great tips on shooting flash street photography.

StreetShootr’s Take

Why would anyone shoot flash street photography at Pride? There are plenty of reasons but ultimately I just like the way flash images look. Flash represents a new direction that allows me to see the world with new eyes.

In some respects, flash street photography is liberating but the effective range of flash tends to limit the kinds of images you can shoot. This is why flash shooters tend to concentrate on character over crafty compositions. To be honest, I have a blast shooting within these limitations but ultimately I think my strongest images have been taken with natural light.

Will I keep shooting flash? Probably, ya. But when the light is beautiful the flash will be in the bag. Every time.

What’s your take on shooting flash street photography at Toronto Pride? Are you going to pick up a flash and hit the streets? Or do you prefer natural light every time? Post your ideas in the comments below and keep the conversation going!

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