Slow shutter speed does open up a whole world of possibilities in 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 slow 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 fired usually 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 which you already have, you need oodles of creativity to create mesmerizing photos.
I have already detailed what you need to make flash painted images. You may want to use another tool which 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 for less than $15 bucks 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 there is a slight bit of twilight still lingering in the sky. That adds a bit of spice you’re your images. The subject can be anything really which 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 LCD of the flash unit using gaffer tape of some such thing 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 allow 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 on. 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.
The Magic of Light Painting with Tim Cooper (FREE Video)