Dragging the Shutter


This is my first blog post. I'm trying something new and am going to work on posting shoots that I work on that don't end up on the site, but are still worth showcasing as teaching tools. The goal here is to blog once/week. I told myself daily, but then I got distracted by Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and decided to set realistic goals.

The plan is to walk through my process and techniques, as well as answering any questions from anyone who happens to stumble upon the blog.

So, for this first post I'm going to talk a little bit about dragging the shutter. I had a shoot with a model coming up that I knew was going to under low light conditions and require flash. However, I was going to be shooting on a beach as the tide came in and I knew I wasn't going to be able to bring a full lighting set up and would realistically be using one speedlight mounted with a softbox on a boom (held by my lovely assistant). Even though I've done these types of shoots many times, I always like to do a little practice session by myself to make sure everything is fresh and I'm prepared.

Because I didn't want my model to look like a bright blob on a darkened background, I planned on using a technique called dragging the shutter. The principle here is that you shoot for your surroundings and then introduce flash. Changing the exposure from 1/200 to 1/40 (or somewhere there abouts) will have an effect on the background of your images without over exposing your subject. Obviously, if you go down to a one second exposure, it's going to be a different story. The idea here is that when the flash goes off it freezes your subject and they are in focus. Then, if you wanted to get crazy, you could move the camera or introduce a light source to create effects for the remainder of the exposure. I wasn't planning on doing this on the real shoot, but it was fun to experiment in the comfort of my living room. Below I've included 3 sample shots to give you an idea of how this technique can change your images. The first two are a straight comparrison, changing only the exposure and the third is a fun final image just to illustrate some of the things that you can do with the technique.

So, here is our first image of a very exciting mason jar. Easy to practice with, as they don't complain much. Shot at ISO 800 with a 50mm f4.5 and exposure 1/160. The white balence was set at 5500 (which is a setting that you'd typically use for daylight). As you can see, the flash is lighting the jar, but the whole image is dull. The background is dark and there is no depth to the image.


Here, the settings remain the same with the exception of the exposure. We have gone way down on this to 1/13. You can see that the jar is still in focus, frozen by the flash despite the handshake that I'm sure occured for the duration of the exposure. No tripod needed here. The difference here is that by leaving the shutter open longer, we allow the ambient light in the room to come in. You can see the tungten lamp on the left of frame hitting the glass to a higher degree and the image itself is much richer and warmer.


For our final image, much remains the same, except this time, I've done a 6 second exposure and dropped my ISO to 64 (a perk of the Nikon D810). The glass is still in focus, despite the camera being propped on the table with no tripod. In order to create the light painting in the background I've quickly run around behind the glass and shone my flashlight into the lens and then stepped out of frame. The light from the flashlight remains, but there is no indication that I was there at all, because I was not capured by the initial blast of flash.


Overall, this is a fantastic technique for low light venues, especially wedding receptions that are often at night and in banquet halls with limited light sources. I'll post photos of the beach shoot next, so you can see a more practical application (don't tell the jars). If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. I'm always happy to answer whatever I can.

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