The Phoblographer’s Guide to Second Curtain Flash Basics

When used properly, Second Curtain Flash can be a powerful creative tool that creates aesthetically unique and visually engaging images.

Here at The Phoblographer, we’re huge proponents of mastering lighting and flash photography. Even if you’re a natural light shooter, mastery of lighting in all forms is fundamental to becoming a well-rounded photographer. Anyone familiar with flash photography knows how versatile a tool it can be. Aside from illuminating our subjects, flash can also be an effective tool that freezes fast-moving subjects. But, what about images that look like long exposures even though the subject appears perfectly blur-free? Those must be composites, right? Well, not always. While this effect is certainly achievable in post-production, you can actually recreate these results in-camera. Why spend all that time sitting at your computer when you can accomplish the same results in-camera practically? That’s where Second Curtain Flash comes in.

When used properly, Second Curtain Flash can be a powerful creative tool in your photography arsenal. The resulting images exhibit a unique aesthetic many find visually engaging. “If Second Curtain Flash is a thing, then that must mean there’s First Curtain Flash as well.” If a thought like this went through your head, you would be correct. Understanding the difference between First Curtain Flash and Second Curtain Flash will allow you to achieve this effect in-camera consistently. Let’s dive into it.

First Curtain Flash

Most photographers with the experience of shooting with flash are probably already familiar with First Curtain Flash. Sometimes referred to as First Curtain Sync, Front Curtain Flash, or Front Curtain Sync, it gives us the ability to freeze motion and overpower ambient light. Achieved through the use of flash duration, this effectively functions as another shutter speed when setting your exposure. We’ve covered flash duration in more detail in the past, and it’s well worth the read if you want to explore the concept further.

Second Curtain Flash

Known also as Second Curtain Sync, Rear Curtain Flash, or Rear Curtain Sync, this is the reason you clicked on this article in the first place. This is what allows photographers to create images that combine elements traditionally associated with longer exposures (i.e. light trails and motion blur) with subjects that appear sharp and frozen in time. You can create some truly attention-grabbing images using Second Curtain Flash when done properly,

Real World Applications

So, how can you actually use Second Curtain Flash to add that extra creative flare to your images? Start by setting your camera to a slow shutter speed and low ISO. Also, make sure both your camera and your flash are set to Second Curtain Flash mode. (Remember that some manufacturers will sometimes referred to it as Second Curtain Sync, Rear Curtain Flash, or Rear Curtain Sync.) The less ambient light there is in a scene, the more pronounced the effect will be in your final image. With these settings dialed in, you’re ready to shoot using Second Curtain Flash. Don’t be afraid to experiment and adjust your settings until you arrive at a final image you like.

Pauleth Ip

Paul is a New York City based photographer, creative, and writer. His body of work includes headshots and commercial editorials for professionals, in-demand actors/performers, high net worth individuals, and corporate clients, as well as intimate lifestyle/boudoir photography with an emphasis on body positivity and empowerment. Paul also has a background in technology and higher education, and regularly teaches private photography seminars. When not working on reviews and features for The Phoblographer or shooting client work, Paul can be seen photographing personal projects around NYC, or traveling the world with his cameras in tow. You can find Paul’s latest work on his Instagram over at @thepicreative.