Shadows are the soul of the photograph. Shadows add a sense of depth and dimension to a photograph. Shadows are your friend. Light illuminates and shadows define.
The opening photograph for this column is a painting-with-light portrait, created using a small, $20 flashlight as the only light source. I took the image on one of my "See the Light" workshops in a barn in Spearfish, S.D.
Okay, let's get to the technique.
First, you'll need to shoot in a dark room or area (which can even be outdoors at night, if it's very dark). A dark room is needed because you want to use only the light from your flashlight to illuminate the subject. A totally dark room is best.
I've found that you need your subject to hold as still as possible for at least a five-second exposure. I say five seconds because I've found that most subjects have a hard time holding still for more than five seconds. That said, I've made 10-second painting-with-light photographs.
The length of time you spend "painting" depends on the power of your flashlight and the spread of its beam; how fast you paint the subject with light; your distance from the subject, your ISO, aperture and shutter speed combination; and the area you want to paint. It may sound complicated, but in practice, it's not.
Set your camera on a tripod. For starters, set the ISO to 400, aperture to ƒ/5.6 and the shutter speed to five seconds. Use your camera's self-timer or cable release (or app) to trigger the shutter to prevent camera shake. Once the shutter is released, gradually move (paint) the light over the subject. If your subject is too dark, increase your ISO or open your aperture and vice versa.