There are a couple different fun ways to use flash or lighting in night photography. First, there is light painting. Then, there there is slow sync flash. Finally, there is the creativity of multiple flash.
Slow sync flash, which is easiest to shoot in Aperture Priority mode, leaves the shutter open long enough to expose for a dimly lit background while using the flash to illuminate your subject in the foreground. Depending on how light or dim the background is, use a tripod.
f1.8, 1/15th of a second. This I was able to shoot handheld.
Here’s an example of what NOT to do. I should have used a tripod and didn’t.
f1.8, 1/2 second. If I had used a tripod, my lovely friend Amber would be sharp and without blur in this shot. Live and learn. And, occasionally, if you’re really lucky – you’ll meet someone who will do the living just so you can learn. Aren’t I nice?
Another way to use a flash is to fire it multiple times in one exposure. I did that back here to get the double exposure of the sewing machine. Another option is to put the camera on Bulb on a tripod and fire your flash manually multiple times.
What you get is a ghost of your subject. Here’s my sister being a creeper while I played with this a couple years ago.
21 seconds at f9. The entire scene is lit by multiple flashes. Moving her makes her all ghost-y.
29 seconds at f10. We learned that the closer she was to the flash, the less transparent she was. What you set your f-stop to will depend on how many times you want to flash in a particular shot. Around f10 I could get in about 5 flashes and have the right exposure.
There’s no great formula for this. Everything will depend on your flash output, the space you’re using, f-stop, aperture, how many ghost people you want per shot… the key here is to experiment. A lot. This is a project I recommend testing on digital. Or bracketing on film. Like, major bracketing. I mean, shoot a whole roll playing around.
So, I hope that I gave you some good information, but this really just scratches the surface on the creative things you can do and how different flash settings will affect things – such as motion. I'd really like to revisit this as soon as I have some good test shots. No promises on when, just know it will happen!
Next, a couple alternative photographic tutorials. Get ready to explore your inner Holga and Pinhole lover. It will be fun!