Dragging The Shutter

Had an awesome Studio Lighting Workshop over the weekend - packed a lot in such a short time. But we didn’t forget to have fun and some great barbecue too.

One of the techniques we covered was a creative strategy that involves “dragging” the shutter when taking a flash exposure. Dragging the shutter is really just a fancy term for using a long shutter speed and it’s generally a technique used in location lighting and not the studio. But we’re creative and there is not right way or wrong way here so let’s get started.

This is a demo image shot during our Studio Lighting Class in Dallas, July 10, 2016. 

We’ve got our model, the lovely and talented Jennifer Fermaint, in a beautiful sequined gown.  There is one studio light to her right, a Profoto D1 in a 3x4 softbox. To her left is someone holding a shiny piece of water heater insulation that is reflecting that light back onto the sequins on the dress.

The flash exposure is calculated using a flash meter pointed at the light. Using the power settings on the flash, the exposure reading is f/11 at ISO 200. At this point, it doesn't matter what shutter speed we use. We've only calculated the exposure for the flash.  This is, of course, taking into consideration the sync speed of the camera. 

The next exposure we want to calculate is the light on the background. In our case, the background is simply the wall in the classroom and our light is the modeling lamp on our D1 flash. Using our light meter, we know that at f/11 - the aperture we need for the flash exposure - our shutter speed needs to be set at 4 seconds. Wow, that's a long time.

When we take the photo, the flash exposure will render our subject sharp and crisp. We've jiggled the camera to accentuate the effect but with a little bit of motion, you get a ghost-like aura around your subject. At f/11 the flash exposure is beautiful and at 4 seconds the background ambient light was exposed well too.

Now, what about color. Remember that flash is daylight balanced. The modeling lamp in a Profoto D1 is an incandescent bulb with a color temperature much warmer than daylight. We did add an amber gel to make this a very warm background but even without the gel it would have been quite warm.  

This is one of those techniques that you should understand how it's done. You may not like the results, but that's not what's important.  It is important that you understand why the photo came together the way it did.