Beginners Guide To Shutter Drag Technique

I never thought that the shutter drag technique will be such a popular topic. Many of you have asked me and wanted to learn more about it. So to all of you who are interested in this technique and would like to try it, I present to you:

The beginners guide to shutter drag technique

What is shutter Drag?

Shutter drag is a technique used to create a feel of movement and motion in your images. You use it if you would like to create a trail of light or a ghostly pattern around your subject. It can be used the same way by either a wedding photographer or a portrait photographer.

 Shutter drag is simply slowing down your shutter (dragging it) and using it with a flash/ strobe at the same time. What happens is that the slow shutter is creating those beautiful trails of movement and light while the flash is freezing the subject(s).  The longer you keep your shutter open, the more time you have to capture light trails. You can keep you r shutter open from 1/2 second up to 3 seconds depending on what you are trying to achieve. 

The shape of the light trails will depends on the way you move your camera while the shutter is open. If you move it in circular motion you will get a circular light trails and so on… I guess you got the point.

shutter drag technique

What do you need to capture your first shutter drag photo?

A successful shutter drag shot will require a camera, a tripod and a flash. The flash can be either on camera or off camera. I’m not talking about the tiny built-in flash in your camera I’m talking about the bigger guns. I use flashes from a brand called Yongnuo, they are affordable and deliver excellent results. Do your research and see what best suits your needs and budget.

shutter drag technique used in wedding

How to capture an image?

I will explain here 2 scenarios:

Scenario one:

In this scenario you will be holding your camera, set the shutter speed to anything between 1/2 second up to 3 seconds, and your preferred aperture value. Switch on your flash (TTL mode, just to make your life a bit easier at this moment), and press the shutter release button. Quickly move your camera in any pattern you like until the shutter closes. Check the photo, if it is too bright then make your aperture smaller, if it is dim then open your aperture more. That’s it… easy? Don’t get too excited I forgot to tell you one thing about the flash.

For best results, you need to set your flash to “Rear Curtain Sync). This is when your flash fires just before the second shutter curtain closes. By default, all flashes fire as soon as the shutter’s first curtain moves but you can control this in the camera (Nikon) or on the flash itself (Canon). If you can’t find this option in your camera or on flash then just go with the default setting you have. But better if you can change it to a rear curtain sync as we will need it in the second scenario.


Scenario two:

This scenario will be most probably taking place in a studio or in a controlled environment.  Your camera will be fixed on a tripod and  your model will be moving in a certain pattern. Before you start taking photos ask your model to do the move/pattern and you time it. Record the time from start to finish and dial it as your shutter speed. Let’s assume the move will take 2 seconds. So the shutter speed is 2 seconds.

You will need a fixed/ ambient light and a flash. The ambient light will illuminate the moving model from second 00:00 to second 01:98. This light will help in creating the ghostly pattern and then the  firing of the flash at second 01:99 will freeze and illuminate the model. Always remember that it should always be dark when you are shooting otherwise your image will be over exposed. The below image will help you understand the technique.

And that’s it.

I hope I was able to make it easy to understand and got you excited to go and try it. If you have any questions please drop me a line.

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