Painting with Light: How to find a boring image and make it beautiful

Painting with Light: How to find a boring image and make it beautiful

Painting with light is something that I used to do in the time when I had my studio and was shooting still life in large format, but it is as easy to do with hand held flash and a DSLR. You have to have an image of what you want to do of course, but the practice is not so difficult. Here is an example.

How to find a boring image and make it beautiful

I have just come back from Punjab where I was shooting a feature for a science magazine about the depleting level of underground water. Farmers in Punjab are facing problems of depleting levels of underground water that in some places is already as deep as 700ft! They complain that the state government does not supply enough electricity to use the pumps. They only receive 3-5hr of electricity per day and have to use diesel generators to pump the water for their fields. I got all the images of farmers and water pumps that I needed but I was looking for an image to illustrate the story and saw this painted wall. This is basically an advertisement for water pumps painted on a shed on the Chandigarh-Ludhiana highway.


iso 200, 1/400 sec at f/10

Not a bad image as it has all the elements of the story; the field, the water pump and the electric pole, but it just doesn’t look good enough, not to say boring! I decided to come back to it later in the evening and see how it looks in better light.

This is how it looked just after sunset. Hmm . . mud city! terrible.


iso 200, 1/15 sec at f/9

I had to underexpose to get the sky back in, but then it looks like this. Beautiful sky, but no detail in the building.


iso 200, 8 sec at f/22

A flash on camera is out of the question so I had to think creative. I have two speedlights with me, SB-900 and SB-800. both very reliable, but no one to hold them and I do not travel with stands. I decided to ‘paint’ the scene with a long exposure. I zoomed my SB-900 to 200mm and clicked the shutter with 5sec delay. You can see me on the left side of the picture holding the flash.


iso 200, 6 sec at f/5.6

ok, this is going to look good eventually but I have to be more accurate with the exposure, as well as my location. I also have to bring in the grass and the electric tower into the light. Light is changing fast and it is getting dark so I play with the exposure a bit to save time and keep the longer exposure for the final shot. Low flash from the left of camera to light the grass.


iso 200, 10 sec at f/4.5

Ok, I got it. I need three flashes, one for the building, one for the tower, and one for the grass. Quickly before the color of the sky is gone as it is already way after sunset.

iso 200, 13 sec at f/5.6

The final shot. iso 200, 13 sec at f/5.6

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