Flash painting or how to paint with a flash?

Flash painting is a creative opportunity: take surprising photographs with the help of a single light source, create complex light patterns in a jiffy using your camera and your flash. Do you know this technique of painting with a flash ? In this article, we’ll tell you what this lighting feat is all about, why you’ll pair it with other lighting techniques, and why it offers totally different and new results. It’s time to leave, don’t miss the creativity train!

What is Flash painting and why use this technique?

If you are looking for a clear and simple definition for flash painting , look no further and translate: paint with flash.  Use flash as the main light source to draw attention to a particular object or scene. Aim your flash in any direction you want to emphasize and enjoy the result. You can perform this technique in several takes or in one by selecting an extended exposure time.

Before going on the attack, try to get a clear idea of ​​​​the results you want to obtain in order to direct your flash correctly. If you’ve opted for several short shots instead of one extended one, anticipating the light patterns will save you valuable time in post-processing, avoiding endless retouching. Paradoxically, the flash is not the only valid tool to carry out the technique of flash painting… indeed, a slightly powerful light source also offers excellent results. You can also combine with natural light or some artificial devices that you will find on the road (lampposts, advertising posters, etc.) to add interesting sensations to your photographs.

To refer to the technique used in the photograph below, we will choose the term flash painting, however, in my opinion, the term light painting better encompasses the idea of ​​using a light source to create a photograph and illuminate an environment in depth, an enhancement that would be impossible to obtain with natural light. The term light painting is known to all and commonly used to characterize these elaborate photographs with prolonged exposure times and a single light source in order to create real „figures of light“ or „drawings of light“. experiences accumulate and the technique is perfected by relying on precious helpers (the accessories that we are going to present to you), always offering more possibilities to the passionate and creative photographers.

As you have already understood, in this article we will focus on the concept of flash painting. Don’t rule out any accessory: cobra flash, continuous light, studio flash, torches, etc. Each of them will offer you particular effects and it would be sad to favor only one. Use them together or separately to expand the range of lighting possibilities.

Difference Between Light Painting and Flash Painting

Although the essence of these techniques, light, is common, they are not alike in all respects. To learn more about these new approaches to photography, a few words about their origin. For a proper history, we must go back to 1889 (yes, all that) to observe the first drawings created on the basis of the movement of incandescent bulbs with prolonged exposures. These realizations, called physiograms ( physiogram), unwittingly give birth to a new field of techniques where, much later, the technique of light painting will be inserted. With a fixed camera, placed on the ground and directed towards the sky, one places a pendulum equipped with a luminous point to trace circles above the objective during a prolonged exposure. This first experience marked the beginning of a long list of tests of all kinds to finally lead to the technique we know today: light painting.

The dazzling advances in this sector have introduced many new shapes and designs obtained thanks to numerous lighting accessories, from lanterns to LEDs, bulbs, etc.

Nowadays, we no longer place the camera on the ground but rather on a tripod or a rigid support and then insert a person or an object in the final photograph.

Light painting, a well-known and widespread technique, consists of creating drawings, silhouettes, shapes, flashes, moving traces,… using a prolonged exposure time and several light sources. In some cases, photographers use light sources of different colors and sizes. Flash painting , on the other hand, offers you the possibility of constructing an image with a lighting scheme that would be impossible to draw up with a single point of light. Accumulate multiple images and combine them in post-processing for a spectacular end result.

What you need to know before performing the flash painting technique

The control of the lighting and its capacity is the first aspect to be taken into account to carry out this technique. When designing your frame, pay attention to the natural light that you could use as the main light source to which you will add different points of light on areas of interest. This „artificial“ lighting is a bit magical, the viewer will have a hard time guessing where the light is projected from.

Another important element of flashpainting is the possibility of playing with several photographs at the same time. In post processing, you can add and remove all the effects you want. Without forgetting that you can already make a pre-selection at the time of taking thanks to the viewing on the LCD screen of your device.

One last thing you will need to take into account is the time needed to “build” the frame, context or scene you are going to photograph. The more meticulous and imaginative you are in the composition, the better your results will be. Study the light at different times of day and observe the natural shadows. Try not to overdo it with the lighting: be creative without lighting everything up.

To perform this technique, it is essential to use certain photographic editing software that you use regularly in the best of cases. Indeed, some basic knowledge is essential such as light control parameters. If you are not used to using this type of program, we encourage you to prepare yourself a good cup of tea or coffee to discover the mysteries of technology on a rainy Sunday afternoon, you will see , you will love the results.

Creative effects with flash painting

The shots that you will take with this type of lighting technique will have nothing to envy to professional photographs. This kind of photography is particularly appreciated in the advertising and fashion sector for the unique and even surreal sensations that are suggested. If you don’t have lighting equipment or a photo studio available, you’ll like this option because it lets you create lighting schemes with different exposures.

Play with areas of shadow and light in an artificial way to guide the viewer’s gaze.

Post-processing and flash painting: the final touch

Once all the shots have been taken, let’s now start the post-processing process and the photographic retouching. This involves making an intelligent selection of each of the illuminated areas in each image and grouping them together in a single, unique file, mixing in disorder: brightness, contrast and perfect white balance.

It is recommended to work by zones to favor the appearance of excellent results. You can use several photographic retouching tools to illuminate different areas of your images: by selected areas, by pixels. Always be sure to take care of the edges of the areas you modify, make your contrasts smooth. Experiment and choose the tool that gives you the best results.

As always, try to achieve as many high quality shots (RAW and DNG) as possible on location with the same selection of settings. Adjust your camera settings several times according to the conditions of your scene in order to limit post-processing transformations: do not give excessive importance to post-processing.

Useful accessories for making flash painting

1. The Flash

Next to your camera of course, the flash is the essential accessory to carry out this technique. You have the choice between a cobra flash to use with your device or an external studio flash. Any flash that’s compatible with your camera will do just fine and give you satisfying results. You can press the “test” button and project a flash on the subject you are photographing, with long exposures and rapid movements. Look for dark areas and use dark clothing to avoid bad reflections and ghosting when using long exposures. Even if the luminous point is very weak, with a more or less long duration, we will note its presence.

Ideally, you will use a studio flash , for optimized results and controlled lighting. You will be able to focus the light on a specific point and regain control of your device to trigger and observe the results. External flashes are more powerful and their light is shaped to give you a better idea of ​​the future result. You can also associate additional accessories with it: honeycomb, umbrella, etc.

2. Continuous light projectors

Continuous light projectors are also very effective for flash painting. Indeed, they offer the power required to illuminate any place. Position your projector and extend the exposure time to achieve different intensities. An excellent alternative to studio flash for its qualities but also for its price.

You might also consider square or rectangular light panels with viewfinders that could illuminate your setting perfectly. There are different powers, with LED lights and different sizes. They do not emit heat and you can modulate the intensity while enjoying continuous light.

3. LED torches

You could also light your photographs with a torch of LED bulbs. This type of accessory uses less energy but it is just as efficient as another and its great advantage is the possibility of carrying it and moving it super easily. It could perfectly substitute a cobra flash. There are models that allow you to modulate the intensity to obtain a constant temperature during the realization.

4. Tripod

Another essential accessory for this type of photography is the tripod , which guarantees a perfectly clear photograph. It is important that the device is stabilized when you capture your various shots. For a first obvious reason, that of avoiding blurs and for a second, to guarantee perfectly similar images of the same shot. If you move even a few millimeters between two equal planes with different lighting, you complicate your task in post-processing.

5. Remote control

Being able to shoot without touching the camera is also a great asset for this type of photography (like every time you use long exposures). Everything is simpler and more comfortable, you fix your settings directly on the device and when the time comes to trigger, you withdraw and press your remote control to be sure not to transfer any vibration to your device. In our selection, find the remote control that best suits your needs.

6. Trigger for cobra flash

A particularly useful accessory for controlling your flash remotely. These triggers will allow you to control the triggering of the cobra flash when you want to use it externally. These two parts work as a receiver and a transmitter at a certain distance. Ideal for performing this technique since you will have to move with your flash.

7. Other accessories

Don’t forget the batteries for your flash, spare batteries to avoid unpleasant surprises, filters for your prime lens if you wish.


Flash painting  is a different form of painting with light to create more creative lighting devices. In photography, there are several techniques to „paint with light“, you knew the light painting that we realize with all kinds of light sources to create spectacular shapes, you have discovered today the flash painting which will allow you to create a surreal light atmosphere.