An Introduction to Flash Painting

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Flash Painting boat La barca by ©Mike Photo Art

Flash Painting

Slow shutter speed does open up a whole world of possibilities as much as creative photography is concerned. Literally, you are limited only by your imagination when it comes to what you can do with a DSLR set to a slow shutter speed. But if you need some help, you can learn more about shutter speed.

One of the creative uses of slow shutter speed is flash painting. Flash painting is slow shutter speed photography in low light or pitch black conditions using a speedlight / flash unit to do the creative painting stuff. The flash is usually fired by using the ‘test’ button. Well, that very much sums up what you need for this genre of photography. Apart from a very basic set of tools that you already have, you need oodles of creativity to create mesmerizing photos.

More Tools

I have already detailed what you need to make flash painted images. You may want to use another tool that really helps to keep the camera absolutely steady when the exposure is made. It’s a remote shutter release. You will get nice OEM versions, but they are more than worth the price you pay.

Setting Up and Taking the Shot

Go as far as you can from the city if you wish to make nice flash painted images at outdoor locations. For indoor attempts, simply shoot with no ambient light. Having said that, you can also try doing flash painting when a slight twilight still lingers in the sky. That adds a bit of spice you’re your images.

The subject can be anything really that you can paint using a flash. The flash is the only source of light here, so you have full creative liberties when it comes to shooting images. One thing though, ensure that you cover the flash unit’s LCD using gaffer tape to eliminate the chances of light pollution.

Set the aperture to around f/8. It not only ensures a greater depth of field, which is necessary for flash painting images but also allows you to use a long shutter speed.

Shutter speed to be used depends on the effect you want. Let’s say you are trying to flash paint a car parked out in the middle of nowhere. Use at least a 20 second exposure to start off. This should give you enough time to fire the flash at least 4-5 times (depending on the recycle time) and get a proper flash painted image. Again, the number of times you fire the flash will depend on the subject. If you are flash painting an old house, you will need a longer shutter speed, about 10 minutes or even longer.

Please note the aperture of the lens remains open for long durations when the exposure is made. So don’t set the ISO at too high a number. Most DSLRs can shoot at ISO 200, which is a good place to start. You can adjust the ISO setting depending on the results.

Focusing is difficult in extremely low light conditions. This is why after setting up the camera on a tripod, use the focus-assist lamp so that the camera’s auto-focusing system can lock focus. Once it locks focus, set it to manual focusing so that focus is not automatically readjusted. Using the viewfinder is impracticable. You will need to use the monitor to compose the image.

The tripod essentially stabilizes the whole shot. It is impossible to do flash painting or for that matter any type of long shutter speed photography without a tripod.

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Catherine Gaither is a professional photographer and bioarchaeologist. She has traveled the world photographing archaeological sites and artifacts, and studying human physical remains. She has written numerous professional publications. She continues to work as a forensic consultant and author.
Catherine Gaither is a professional photographer and bioarchaeologist. She has traveled the world photographing archaeological sites and artifacts, and studying human physical remains. She has written numerous professional publications. She continues to work as a forensic consultant and author.
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