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Shutter Drag - Or How To Liven Up Dancefloor Images

By jameschastney, written 1582552411

This is a technique I use regularly when shooting wedding and event dancefloors and I've had a couple of questions from other wedding photographers about it - so I figured I'd share in case it interested others here! It should be noted I'm not particularly technical when it comes to cameras and I'm entirely self-taught so this technique has mostly been achieved for me by experimentation over time rather than any notable technical skill!

All images in this post are my own, from various weddings over the last couple of years.

First of all - what am I on about? I'm talking about when shooting flash, lowering the shutter speed to introduce motion blur into the image - particularly useful when there are multiple lights (fairy lights, DJ light rigs etc) at venues - like below:

So how is the effect achieved?

  1. First and foremost, you need to ensure your exposure for the ambient light is right as you'll likely be switching back and forth between this style of shooting and more traditional on camera flash when moving around the venue, so get those settings straight in your head first of all.
  2. For this technique to be most effective, your flashgun should be mounted on camera and be pointed either directly forward or angled slightly upwards with a bounce card or similar (I actually use a piece of white cardboard ripped from the lid of the box the flashgun came in).
  3. Your camera needs to be set to 'first curtain sync mode' - this is the key part - you want the flash to fire as the first curtain comes down over the sensor to freeze your subject, and then all the remaining ambient light will be available to be played around with for the rest of the time the shutter is open.
  4. Set a lower shutter speed - ignore flash sync guidelines - it will vary from venue to venue depending on the ambient light, ceiling height, you name it - the picture above was taken at 1/30th second.
  5. Experiment! The above picture was achieved by holding the camera relatively steady but zooming in slightly during the exposure. You can try zooming in, zooming out, jerking the camera right or left, or rotating the whole camera around - the sky is the limit,
  6. Practice! Know where the lights are - you don't want to obscure the subject with light trails so factor that in when shooting.

I hope you found this post interesting and that it may give you a new technique to try! It's not for everyone and doesn't suit every situation but it's another string to add to your bow when working with clients. It's also worth mentioning there are other ways to use this technique - this is just the the one that I happen to use and I find the easiest to reliably implement when working.

Here's a couple more images using the technique:

Achieved by moving the camera to one side during the exposure.

Achieved by wiggling the camera from side to side whilst moving it up or down.

Achieved by zooming in or out during the exposure.