Dragging the Shutter, as we learned in Part One, is a tricky technique where you light the subject with your flash, and then use a slow shutter speed to pull in the background light. All the basic how-to information on how to balance light to make it “correct” is laid out in the previous article. Now we are going to break the rules and have fun! The Venice Carnival is the perfect place to play with this technique because of the extravagant and colorful costumes combined with gorgeous scenery.
I love dragging the shutter, but I like to play with it by shaking the camera, or spinning, panning or zooming during the longer exposures instead of holding it steady for a sharp background. The flash “freezes” the subject because of the short flash duration, and by moving the camera, the background can get crazy! It’s tricky and requires testing to find just how to do it. In general, to achieve interesting background “blur”, use a shutter speed somewhere between 1/2 and 1/15. A faster shutter speed doesn’t provide enough time to blur the background and more than ½ second can result in the blur going right through the subject. In all styles, the edges of the flashed subject will have some blur from the camera movement.
Zooming works best when there are points of light in the background or contrast between light and dark areas. Trial and error and lots of testing will determine if you zoom too fast or slow, or if you zoom wide to tight or tight to wide. I do it all different ways. I’m shameless, I’ll try anything for a cool effect that works for the image!
For the image at the top of this post, there are a couple of lights that makes streaks during the zoom, and there is contrast between the sky and the posts. The color contrast of red and blue are the perfect compliment since red jumps forward and blue gives more depth. This was shot on the Nikon D600, SB800 flash, ISO 100, f 4.5, 1/8ss, with a Rogue Grid to focus the light on just the subject for drama, and zooming the lens during the exposure.
These next three images show the difference between zooming too much, just right or just a little. Kind of like Goldilocks and the Three Bears! The tight shot of the masks has lots of pinpoints of light behind them and the zoom moving too fast so all the lights go through their masks. The second shot has lights behind, but the zoom is just the right amount, and his face is in the dead center, which helps. The last one is subtle, just a little to give it an edgy feel.
Shake and Panning
How do you describe shaking? Well, sometimes I just pretend I’ve had too much coffee and have the jitters! Sometimes I use a circular motion as in the shot here. Notice the points of lights that have become circular.
Panning is effective too, when you just move the camera in one direction; sideways, diagonally, or vertically. You remember this shot from Part one? This was the hero shot that Fuji used as the ad for the XT 1 for 9 months. Everything was the same as in the previous article, except that I did a slight pan during the exposure, blurring the frames in the background.
Spinning and crazy color
Shifting color balance can be effective, too. Before dawn, the light is very cool, so even just using the flash and keeping the white balance on daylight will result in bluer backgrounds. But if you want the background super blue, then change the white balance to tungsten and put a CTO on the flash. In this shot, I spun the camera to create the curve in the buildings.
There are so many possibilities to play with, and these techniques should help provide a good place to start to expand your creative repertoire!
I lead a Photo Tour to Venice Carnival every year with Chromasia with just 12 people. My partners are David Nightingale from England, and Fabio Thian from Venice. And the extra added bonus of Lee Varis! Here’s the link:
Check out all my upcoming photo workshops and travel tours: