Lots of folks love the look of blurry photos. And you can surely fine-tune how that works. But if you’re looking to capture fast motion while getting a sharp photo at the same time, you’ll need 2nd curtain flash. First, you’ll need to learn how to use lighting, and we’ve got tons of tutorials on that. (Here’s a good place to start.) But, once you’ve caught up on all that, let’s take this a bit further.
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What is 2nd Curtain Flash?
Here’s an excerpt from an article we wrote that does a fantastic job of explaining what happens.:
“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.”
Scientifically speaking, here’s the sequence of events that produces these beautifully blurry photos:
- Your camera opens the shutter
- One curtain of the shutter closes
- The flash goes off
- The second curtain closes
- The shutter recocks itself
This process captures fast-moving motion but also stops it at the same time. Here are some examples:
In the images above, Jordana is hula-hooping with a glowing hula-hoop. I was able to capture trails of it moving while keeping her completely still because of second curtain flash. The flash froze her while keeping the fast-moving motion going steadily in the frame.
In the photos above, Linda was dancing and the camera was able to capture her movements while keeping parts of her more steady and sharp. To do this, the camera has to be set to second curtain flash or rear curtain flash depending on the camera system you’re using. These may be more of the desired effect that you want in blurry photos.
Doing this process requires a balance of managing the shutter speed. On the slower side you get beautiful painterly effects like what we’ve got below. If the speed is just right, you get photos like the ones directly above. If it’s too fast, you get photos that look like the ones we shot with Jordana.
How to Do 2nd Curtain Flash
After setting up your flash, we recommend keeping it in TTL mode just to make it easier. Make sure you’ve got a lens that can give the aperture reading to the camera. Then have your ISO set to your desired effect depending on the environment you’re shooting in. Start at 1/125th of a second, then ask your subject to move around within a contained area that the flash is hitting. Shoot a quick photo.
- If you want more motion blur, slow the shutter speed. You might need to adjust the TTL accordingly and have it underexpose the scene.
- If you want less motion blur, shoot at a faster shutter speed. You might need to adjust your ISO and then the TTL output.
Remember to Have Fun
Here’s the biggest part of getting those blurry photos you want: have fun. It’s a lot easier to do this when you’ve got flash involved. There’s no need for lots of Photoshop and layers. You can easily do this all in-camera and just make minor adjustments later on. Get it right in-camera and learn the craft so you can have more fun in-camera than in front of a computer.