Remember talking about when and how to use our flash a few weeks ago?  To make sure I answer all your questions, I am going to dive a little more into using flash this week just for you.

It’s happened to the best of us. Those times when you take a photo using the flash and your subject in the foreground is well exposed but your background is completely dark. The worst, right? When taking any kind of photograph, with or without flash, you want a nice balance of light between your foreground and background.

dragging the shutter

Sometimes fixing the problem is as easy as bouncing your light off a wall or ceiling. But what if you are outside? What if you are in the gym trying to capture your child’s volleyball game and the ceiling is way too high? That’s where dragging the shutter comes to play!

“Dragging the shutter” is when you use a low sync speed with your flash. Dragging the shutter allows you complete control over the shutter speed resulting in the perfect balance between your flash and ambient light.

When you drag the shutter, you are using two light sources: ambient light and flash. The flash will expose for your subject and ambient brightens your background. Take advantage of the ambient light in your setting for the perfect background exposure. To do this, set your shutter at a speed that is slower than the maximum sync speed. This lets in some of the light from the background. If your low sync speed is 1/200, shoot at 1/100. That’s 3 stops more light that you’re letting in from the background.

So how exactly do we do this? I’m glad you asked!

How to Drag the Shutter

dragging the shutter

You can drag the shutter whether you are using your pop-up flash or if you have an external flash with these simple steps:

1. Set your camera to Manual mode only.

2. Set your ISO to the lowest sensitivity {it should be 100}.

3. Set your shutter to 1/200 or your camera’s fastest sync speed {check your manual for this}.

4. Set up your shot.

5. Spot meter the brightest object in your frame and adjust the aperture until that bright spot is at lest 4 stops underexposed. If you are inside, you should start at  f/ 5.6. If you are outside, start at f/ 22 if after sunrise and before sunset. If it is really bright out, try doing this in the shade.

6. Take your first photo without using the flash. Your photo should be completely black. If it doesn’t come out black, then use a smaller aperture {higher number} until it is.

7. Now, turn your flash on. Take another photo with the same settings that you used above. You should have a lit subject against a dark background.

8. Next, take a series of photos but after each take, slow the shutter speed 1 stop. Go from 1/200 to 1/100 to 1/50, etc. Stop when you reach the desired exposure. Your series of photos should look like the ones below.

dragging the shutterdragging the shutterdragging the shutter

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Change the camera setting so that the flash is always fires.
  • If the camera allows setting flash exposure compensation, you can reduce the flash output by setting the flash exposure compensation to a negative number.
  • When dragging the shutter you’re often using a really slow shutter speed which means you are going to end up with some camera shake and subject movement.

Your challenge this week is to break your flash out again and play around with dragging the shutter. Try using larger apertures, longer shutter speeds, and higher ISOs! Don’t forget to share your photographs on our Facebook page!


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