Sequins, Strobes & Slow Shutter Speed


Untitled photo

Playing with a Slow Shutter Speed

This past week's challenge was to use a slow shutter speed which was the perfect opportunity for me to further my experimentation and play with combining a flash with a long exposure.  I love to dance and I wanted to evoke that wonderful feeling of being lost in dance, being caught up in the motion, the feeling of what it is  like to:


Dance Like No One is Watching

Ingredients: What You Need

2 x Studio Strobes with modeling light functionality.

2 x colored gels for your lights - I chose contrasting red/orange and green/blue.

1 x camera with tripod and long exposure functionality.

1 x Dark space with black backdrop and no ambient light.

1x  A fan (the blowy kind that flings your hair around, not the sort that loves you unconditionally, although having both is even better!)

1 x Clothing  that catches the light or with some kind of strong contrasting pattern. I used seqins!

This technique is about the playing on the difference between light and dark and capturing the bright parts of the image against the dark background. Check out a behind the scenes of the shoot in progress:

Recipe: How you do it

• Set up your camera on a tripod in a  space  where you can achieve total darkness.

• Position the subject a few feet in front of a dark backdrop.

• Place a color-gelled strobe on either side of the subject, as close in as you can place the lights without them being in view.

• Rotate the strobes so that they are not casting light onto the background.

• Have the modeling lights switched ON  - this will be your ambient fill to capture the blur motion after the strobe has fired.

• Find a shutter speed that works for you to get the motion trail effect you desire. Two seconds worked well for me. The longer you have the shutter open, the slower you'll need to move in order for the 'motion streaks' to render brightly enough to be seen. 

• Figure out the light settings you need to result in a good exposure for your initial pose.

• Because you are faking motion for the main pose, using a fan to add movement to your hair and clothing will help sell the notion that you really are moving in the final result. (See below for an example of how much less lively the  result will look without using the fan.)

• Remember to switch off all other ambient lighting before proceeding to the capture stage.

• For the actual capture, have the subject assume the desired pose and as soon as the flash fires (front curtain, not rear curtain) the subject should  move to create the motion streaks. Note that I specifically did not want to see streaks of my face in the shot so I immediately threw my dark hair over my face. Those with lighter hair may have different results.  In essence, the streaks will be created by brighter things  moving across the scene and being lit by the modeling lights for the remainder of the 2 second exposure after the flash has fired. 

• Play around moving in different ways - rotating, twisting, running in and out of frame to explore the different kinds of visual FX that result. 


Lens • 24-70 

Focal Length • 35mm

Speed 2 seconds

f 4.5

ISO 100

Untitled photo

Why the Fan?

This  earlier test shot shows the effect of an image shot without the addition of a fan to add motion to the hair. See how it is lacking in the dynamism of movement we saw in the final image?

The advantage of using front curtain sync with this kind of image is that you can more carefully control the lighting, expression and composition of your main pose because it is captured at the start of the shot. The down side is that because you are faking a moment of movement, you lose any natural movement of hair and fabric in motion. The addition of the fan solves this issue.

The ethereal randomness of the results and the dark background without much detail makes this shot very easy to edit. All editing was achieved in Lightroom with the slight tweaks and enhancements of hues and contrast values. 


  • Dance Like No One is Watching
  • Dance Like No One is Watching

Front Curtain Sync Solutions

Mention of rear curtain sync usually arises when we talk about creating a trail blur behind something that is moving forward. As I mentioned earlier - the timing for achieving this can be a bit random. However, you can also create a directional motional blur using front curtain sync. In that situation you would start with the end pose and run backwards instead of running forwards.  

You can read more and see me running backwards for this effect on my earlier blog post "An Impression of Speed". 

Love to Dance too?

I wholeheartedly recommend The Fitness Marshall on Youtube. Thanks to Caleb and his crew I have managed to stay fit and happy and dancing through the pandemic. I don't know how I would have survived without them. Dancing & Photography are my happy places. What a treat it was to combine them into one image this week! As always, let me know if you have any questions.

And I lovingly hope you manage to dance like a fool into  April and beyond...

  • No Comments
Powered by SmugMug Owner Log In