Nadia Bettega / Pimlico Academy / Visual Literacy activities

Activity: Shutter speed workshop

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Painting with light

This is a slightly more technically focused workshop – use this as a basis for discussing aperture, shutter speed and the importance of light

The idea here is to have fun creating images, explore how movement can be captured. This is an interactive, group-based activity but you need a camera which can have a long exposure. The room needs to be completely dark.

Materials needed

SLR Cameras (or if you only have compact automatic cameras use the night time mode)


Black out materials for the room (or a dark room)



Flashgun or Portable lights

Optional – fancy dress clothing/boxes (requires a bit more time)


PowerPoint illustrating painting with light photographs by Picasso or any works by Gjon Mili.

Prepare talk about the artists, how the art pieces were made, what role does light have, colour vs B&W

Give a presentation on how to adjust shutter speed and aperture on SLR cameras. 


Set up a tripod – important to have the legs wide so it isn’t knocked over by accident

Attach camera set to a long exposure and a high f-stop (to allow it all to be in focus)

Divide students into small groups. Each person take turns to be the photographer, the painter, the subject, the director (rotate). One person takes the photo, while others pose, or move lights in front of the camera.

Experiment with

– different shutter speeds

– different coloured gels

– add bursts of light through the use of flash guns, or portable flood lights (you can also turn the ceiling light on and off briefly for the entire group)

– groups subjects or individuals

– creating repeated images of the same person in camera (by turning the light on and off for short bursts of time and altering the position of the person)

If you have a fancy dress box – you can get the students to dress up and create quirky portraits, drawing with the torches moustaches, glasses and love hearts to frame their faces. This will need a bit more time.

Homework – Ask students to practice taking a long exposure when a car drives past capture the light lines when cars pass (at night).


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