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Understanding Light

Lesson 20 of 34

Dragging the Shutter and High Speed Sync

Mark Wallace

Understanding Light

Mark Wallace

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Lesson Info

20. Dragging the Shutter and High Speed Sync

Lesson Info

Dragging the Shutter and High Speed Sync

Using a slow shutter speed, you can do this to balance ambient light or for special effects. And there's something else I want to talk to you about, and it's called rear curtain sync. And so the way to see this is very, very easy. So I've got a couple of pictures here and I did this outside in Phoenix one night. So when your curtains open in your shutter normally the first curtain opens and as soon as it's open that's when the flash fires. Right so, boom, it fires, that's by default. You can also set your flash to fire just before the second curtain closes. So the curtain opens, it's open for a while, and then boom right before the second curtain closes the flash fires and then it closes. And what this will do when you're dragging the shutter it will change the way that your light looks. So let me illustrate this for you. And this is something that you would do in a really low light environment. And it's something that wedding photographers do a lot. It's pretty spectacular, we'll see ...

if we can do it in here. One of the things I've noticed is that the Canon remote system doesn't do rear curtain sync. I'm not sure why, it's probably a user issue. But we'll try this with the flash on the camera to see how it works. But first curtain sync, let's say you have a car with bright headlights and the shutter speed here is slow enough that we're seeing the car move from here all the way to here, okay? So that's the ambient light that we're seeing there. So the curtain opens, the flash fires, pow! When the flash fires, it freezes this car, that car is frozen. But the shutter is still open and the car continues to move. And so we get these streaks of light from the headlight. Alright, and that looks fine when you have headlights on 'cause it looks like the light is shining out from the headlights. The second thing that you could do, rear curtain sync, or second curtain sync, what happens is the shutter opens and the car is moving, and it's creating these blurry lights. And then right before the second curtain closes, pow, the flash fires and it freezes the car over here. And so we have lights that are trailing. So if we had this at first curtain sync, what would happen is we would have a car here and all these lights would be on the car itself. So you can control basically when that freeze happens of a person or a car or a sports person or whatever. And so it's sort of fun. So one of the things that I've seen wedding photographers do is they'll use this technique to capture the dance with the father or dancers at a reception, that kind of stuff. And so it's in a low light situation and they will have a slow shutter speed. And let's say father and daughter are dancing, and so they're going to be blurred when they're dancing. And I hope they don't dance like this. But they dance and so they're going to have this blur, but right at the last second, boom, the flash fires and so there's a frozen image of them on top of a blurred background. If you did first curtain sync, you would have a frozen image with a blur on top. Does that make sense? And so by switching when the flash fires not only can we drag the shutter and get that really cool blur effect but we can control how that blur looks in relationship to the freeze-y part. Which is really cool. So I'm gonna see if we can try this. And we didn't try this in this room and it might be a little but too bright in here. But we're gonna take the flash, we're gonna to put it on the camera, yeah there we go. And so Lex we're going to have to have you come out here. And for this, what we're going to do is we're going to have to have all of the lights off that are in here, okay, so what I need to do here is reset my flash really fast and I'm gonna reset my zoom to auto. So I'm resetting my flash really, really quickly. There we go, alright, sync, there it is. So on the flash itself, I'll see if I can show everybody here there's a button that says sync. When I push that, the first thing that shows up is a little H, that's for high speed sync. And the second thing that shows up is a bunch of little triangles and that's saying rear curtain sync. And so to see this, what I'm going to do is I'm going to slow my shutter down to a half a second. And just watch what happens, I'll do it at a second. So you'll see two flashes, you'll see the fist flash, that's the pre-flash and then one second will go by and right before the curtain closes you'll see a second flash. So, we're not taking a picture of anything, just watch what happens and listen, so here it goes. So you see how that happened? If I did first curtain sync watch what happens. So we're changing when the flash fires. That's all we're doing. Okay so I'm going to put this on rear curtain sync and then what I'm going to do here is I'm going to see what I need to do. So we're going to do this at a fifth of a second. And so Lex what I want you to do is to stand in front of these lamps and come out just a bit, there we go, something like that. I'll see if I can focus in the dark, and I am. And here we go, I'm gonna do something sort of wacky. Alright, so I zoomed the lens really fast as I shot this, let's see if this comes up. And here we have all the stuff in the background is being blurred from the zoom of the lens. But Lex is still in front of those things. I'll try a different technique. So what I'm going to do here is I'm going to, actually I need to make my flash a little bit slower than this. There we go, so we're slowing this down to about a half a second. And for this, (laughing) she's got the eye of the tiger coming out here, I could not have planned this better. (audience laughing) That's awesome, so sometimes this doesn't work because these lights back here, those are really, really bright. And so they're gonna shine through no matter what. So sometimes this doesn't work the way that you want. So actually let's have you move to the right so we don't want to get you a little bit more, there we go. Let's see if we can not have you be a tiger. Okay, so I actually moved the whole back of the scene to get this sort of different effect. And we can do some flash exposure compensation so she wasn't so overexposed. And I'm exaggerating this a bit, so her face is actually getting a little bit of light bouncing around but that's what dragging the shutter is. It's letting the light really slow down. So let's have you even come out a lot more. And I'm gonna put this on a tripod now. And this will make sure the background isn't all blurry. 'Cause blurry is cool, but it doesn't always have to be that way. Not always, so I'll raise this up, and this is just normal dragging the shutter. And I like to use rear curtain sync anytime I drag the shutter. And so my rule of thumb is, if the shutter is slower than a 60th of a second, use rear curtain sync. Because I always like the flash to fire at the end of the exposure. If I'm shooting really fast shutter speed we need a high speed sync which we're gonna get to in a second here so. I'm gonna try this one more time. Kaboom. And that allows us with this really slow shutter to balance Lex in complete darkness with the background which is illuminated. So that's how dragging the shutter works. If you're shooting an event, a wedding, something like that, and you have to have really slow shutter speeds just to get some of the ambient light then rear curtain sync is your friend, big time. Okay, any questions on rear curtain sync? I have a question, Mark. So, that first flash fires, correct? Yes. Does it? How come you don't get a double Image? How come you don't end up with a, does that make sense? Yeah, it does make sense and in fact, what we'll do. Ah, let's turn this back on just for a second. And I'll explain that. Because remember for the, when the-- The Ninja. The Ninja, the Ninja happens when the shutter is still closed. So here's what's happened, I'll do it really fast again. We have, that's the pre-flash for TTL metering. Okay I gotcha ya. And yeah, so what happens is when you press the shutter release, what's happening is this little pre-flash comes over here, hits the subject, comes back through the lens, is metered and then the shutter opens and then there's a flash. So that pre-flash never makes it through the shutter. Perfect, thank you. Yes, yes. When we see your images come on the screen here they're kinda of like one way and then they pop into something that looks-- Yeah. A little cleaner, is that a profile or? It's, well two things are happening. I'm shooting simultaneously Jpeg and raw images. Oh, okay. So what happens is when it comes into lightroom, the raw, I mean the jpeg preview shows up and the jpeg image doesn't have as much detail as, and it doesn't have all the, it's got some modifications set in the camera-- Right. That aren't necessarily set to the raw image. And so as soon as the raw images load it goes bunk and overrides that jpeg image, that's why there's that delay. If I just shot raw, it wouldn't do that. It would just take a lot longer for it to-- Right, okay. To appear the first time. Okay, any other questions on that? I think we are good. Okay, we need to talk about something else and that is called high speed sync. 'Cause speedlights are cheaters. So what high speed sync does is it allows you, if you are using a speedlight, to shoot faster than 200th of a second. So how does that work? Well good news. We have a cool video and so let's see if this video will play here. When your shutter is moving faster, than your camera sync speed, it never fully opens. To compensate for this, the flash doesn't just fire once. It fires hundreds of small evenly timed bursts. When the first curtain opens, the flash begins to fire and as the curtains move over the sensor, the flash continues to fire bursts of light. To the sensor, these multiple flashes appear as one long burst of light and we get a perfect exposure. Okay, so I'll explain it to you. What happens is, the first curtain opens, the second curtain closes but when it is going faster than sync speed remember it's just a slit of light that goes by. So what the, at high speed sync, what happens with speedlight is it doesn't do just one burst of light like normal. What happens is when that, those curtains are moving in a slit, the speedlight is actually flashing and flashing and flashing. It's doing a strobe light effect. And so, the curtains open here, bam, it exposes that. Curtain goes here, bam, it exposes that. Goes here, bam, and so it's actually not one burst of light. It's hundreds, maybe thousands. And that's how a speedlight can break the sync speed barrier. The problem with that is the power of your flash decreases significantly. Because it doesn't have all the juice to just say ah, in all one burst of light and throw that light out there. It has to do a bunch of work. And so you can shoot at a much higher shutter speed but the penalty for that is that your output is much lower. And so to do that on your camera, on a Nikon, there's an fp sync, I think, in the menu and you can just tell it to turn on at different speeds. Usually 250th of a second or higher. Just go to, it's called focal point sync on a Nikon. On a Canon, it's high speed sync. And on the Canon cameras, on that sync button where I hit it to go to rear curtain sync, I can push it and it has a little h. And as soon as I do that, now I can take my shutter speed and I can go all the way up to eight thousandth of a second if I want to. So Lex, let's have you come out here for just a second and we'll see how effective this is. So, we're not gonna worry about flattering light. We're just gonna see if we can get some light that works. So we're gonna have you stand right over here. And I'm shooting right now at f/22 at eight thousandth of a second. Let's see if our flash can actually keep up with that from over here. Kaplamo. And this is the funny thing. So that was f/22, eight thousandth of a second and the picture we got was nothing. So there's no way that this flash is gonna be able to do that. But if I take this fash, cause when it's firing very, very rapidly with an aperture that is so small, there's just not enough light. You can't do it. So it's not like a magic thing that you can shoot at any aperture value at any shutter speed that you want, it just doesn't work that way. Butt let's take this down to let's say f/2.8 and we'll try that again. Love my jerk stopper. And we'll take that flash. And at 2.8, we've opened up the aperture enough that we can actually get a shot. So that exposure triangle gotcha is you can't just do anything you want with high speed sync. You got to make sure that you remember you have to open up the aperture so that light can come through. We could, I think, at f/22, we could have increased our ISO up to a very high level and it would be sensitive enough to get all of that light. But you can't just say Hah, here we go high speed sync and I can just do anything I want. It doesn't really work that way. The other is, I'm gonna let you hold that for a second. Thank you. With high speed sync, the ability to freeze motion changes. Because remember when we had the normal flash, the shutter opened there was one burst of light that was a very short duration of light and that freezed, froze our motion right. So everything is frozen. If you have a shutter that's moving in a slit, in a flash that's going very, very fast, essentially, your freezing motion at the speed of whatever the shutter is. So you're back to relying on the shutter to freeze that motion and you don't get the advantage of the flash freezing the motion. And so there is a trade off to that. Also high speed sync will drain your battery very quickly because it's firing so much. And also, it will overheat your flash much quicker. Okay, do we have any questions? We do have questions and I know Ken and I tried to learn high speed sync, it took a while for this to sync in. Yeah, so the thing with high speed sync that I think is frustrating when you first start using it is understanding how much power you lose. And so I was, I did a workshop on high speed sync for pocket lizard actually. And we were trying to show how you could shoot in extremely bright sunlight at two o'clock in the afternoon in Phoenix to overpower the sun. And, which is misnomer, we're gonna talk about what, how, yeah. Don't use that term overpowering the sun. So we were trying to do that and what we found is we have to have the flash with no light modifier, like extremely close to the subject to just get any light on it to be able to shoot at the shutter speeds and aperture values we needed to be at to control the ambient light. And so when we wanted to do some really soft portraits, in fact that portrait I showed at the very beginning where there was the girl outside in the shade and I added a little bit of light to that. That was shot with high speed sync actually. There was a soft box and it was probably eight inches from her face and it was really close. 'Cause anything beyond that the flash just did not have enough power to keep up with, to keep up with the sun. I think that's a really good point too when you're talking about shooting in mid-day sun, that you start with what it isn't good for, how isn't this great. Because I was asking why don't you use this all of the time? Yeah. So you have to kinda think about it. And there is a, there is this misconception that you can get gear that will allow you to shoot anywhere at any time and get any result. And that's just not the case. And so when you're working with light, if you're outside and in mid-day sun, and there is just no shade at all. You're not gonna get great pictures. You just really aren't. You can go and do some modifications to the light and really work hard at it, and you can get some stuff that works. But wouldn't it be a lot easier to just wait like five hours and go when the sun is lower in the sky and find some shade and get a location that works and do it right? I mean that to me is the best way to do it instead of trying to force all this gear and get something that is just not working. It's like a bad relationship. If it's not working, it's not working, give up and move on, right. Don't just like struggle with it until you're exhausted. Yeah, find the light that works and then shoot there and if it doesn't work then admit it and move on. Cool, and Mark, on this subject, Zonas would like to know can they use high speed sync feature on studio strobes. No, there is no high speed sync on studio strobes as we know them today. There is high speed sync potentially coming to the new pro photo B and some other flashes that are approaching the market in the next six months or so. So I think it will it'll show up eventually. But the difference is a studio strobe is just gonna have one burst of light. It's not gonna be firing and there's a bunch of reasons for that that have to do with the capacitors and how they work and all kinds of things. But a studio strobe, we're gonna talk about that tomorrow working outside with a studio strobe and how do you compensate for really bright sun. And how do you get past that 200th of a second problem? So if you're outside shooting and have you want to have a 2.8 aperture and you can only got to 200. Your camera is gonna go whoa everything is super over exposed. So that's when your neutral density filters will come into play and you will basically have to use shade to fix that. Okay and just a more basic question from J. Griffin and Lisa Boston. "You've been shooting an aperture, have you been shooting an aperture for everyone's benefit for the sake of demonstration or do you frequently use that mode. Or do you use manually usually?" Yes, so aperture priority mode, actually I think I've been shooting in manual mode right now. But aperture priority mode with the speedlight does something special. And that is you can that you can set the aperture and it will just drop the shutter speed as low as it needs to be to balance ambient light with your flash. If you're in shutter priority mode, what happens is the shutter remains the same and the camera will open the aperture as wide as it needs to be to balance the ambient light. But a lot of times what happens is it just can't open the aperture wide enough and so you don't get the balance of ambient light with the flash. And so just to keep it simple so we can see the lamps and everything, I just kept it on aperture priority mode so we would get that balance of both things. So yeah, the other thing I will normally do is shoot in manual mode and just manually control that kind of stuff. Okay, other questions? Yes sir, so 'cause we are getting a lot of high sync speed questions but they're very specific to certain situations. Well let's hear it. So Brian Texas wants to know "How do you get the type of images where there is a dancer leaping in the air and you get multiple images on the frame and there's a strobe that goes off. Is that multiple strobes potentially? Well it depends on the type of strobe. I know that I think Chase Jarvis did some stuff with a, I'm not sure what flash it was, but there re some flashes that you can trigger using, ah I forget what it's called, but you can trigger them multiple times. Bam, bam, bam, bam. And so I think Chase had a skier flying through the air. And so what he did, is he exposed only for the flash. And so as that skier is flying through the air, the camera's on the tripod. Every time the flash fires, there's basically a new exposure and so you get that. And so there is on speedlights there's a mode, and what is it called John? Stroboscopic. Stroboscopic. Thank you. Stroboscopic flash is what it's called and what you can do is you can program your speedlight to fire at different frequencies like once every tenth of a second. Once every second, a hundred times a second. So what you can do is you can open up your shutter for a duration of let's say a second or two and then as something is flying by it's gonna be flashing multiple times and you'll get multiple exposures. I actually made a video about this on YouTube it's called Stroboscopic flash. So just google Mark Wallace, Stroboscopic flash and you will see a video of me showing how you can throw darts and stuff and do just that. Cool, alright questions. Yeah, on a Canon it's called multi, it's called different things. Bit in your manual it's probably called stroboscopic. Okay and Rapito would like to know "While using a modifier on high speed sync help to eliminate potential blades of light that might seep through into the exposure?" So using a light modifier on high speed flash, will that eliminate blades of light? I don't think I've ever seen blades of light. And I think what they're referring to potentially you can have the flash firing out of sync with the movement of the shutter so I don't, I have never seen that. So I can't really speak to it. I don't think that would solve that issue because even if it was a defuse light source, you're still gonna have this thing out of sync and so you'd still I think get those blades. But I've not seen problems with that. Moonjen would like to know "Can we use strobes and speedlights together as main fill and rim and mix em up?" You can, the difference though is a studio strobe has a power output between 300 watt seconds to five to 1200 to 2400 watt seconds. They are very, very powerful. A speedlight has a power output of about 50 watt seconds. So you're talking about hooking up a moped up to a Porsche. So yeah, they can go along for a ride to a certain extent but there's some point where that speedlight is just not gonna keep up. So the way I've seen a lot of people use speedlights and studio strobes is they use the speedlights for anything that is hard light. Because you don't have to have any modifiers in front of them and so they can sort of keep up with a studio strobe that has a soft box or something so you can get specular highlights or stuff like that. But when you start working with the more powerful studio strobes, the speedlights are gonna have a tough time pumping out enough light to keep up. But you can definitely mix them. You just have to shoot the speedlights in full manual mode and you'll do fine. So things like kicker lights where you're like highlighting somebody's face, throwing light on the background. I use them all the time with studio strobes if I want to. Like if I have a lamp like this in a set, when you have the light on, and you're shooting it like f/ let's say at 200th of a second, we saw that earlier. This will just go into darkness. And so a lot times if I have lamps or little places around the room, is I'll hide speedlights inside those lamps or inside doorways or whatever. And there's just enough light to add some accents. So you can definitely use them together because yeah, they're all good. We have some, I have a couple more things to talk about before we're done. And so it is the reality check of speedlights. So people think speedlights can do everything and they're super powered. And all that kind of stuff. But, there's a reality check and that is, these guys are not magic. So we just talked about it the power output versus strobes. So normally a studio strobe that's about 500 watt seconds which is sort of an entry level power output for a studio strobe. That will equal that power output of 10 speedlights. So 50 watt seconds, 500 watt seconds. So the power output is pretty significantly different and I'm speaking in general terms. I know there's quantum flashes that are 150 watts seconds etc. But studio strobes, there are some that are 300. There are a lot of them that are at 2400 watt seconds and 4800 watt seconds. And so just think of that as horsepower if you don't know what watt seconds we're going to talk about it later. So there's that. There's also this issue of recycle times. So recycle times are the times it takes when you take a picture and the flash is ready to go again. And with a speedlight, especially on full power as you shoot more and more, the batteries get lower and lower. And it takes longer and longer for the flash to be ready to go again. You can put an external battery on there that helps. But the recycle times at full power and even half power are generally not any where near a studio strobe. So it's hard to do very, very fast shooting unless you really lower the power output of your speedlight. And then there are distance limitations. And I get, I would say I don't know, 50 emails a month from people saying hey I want to take a photo of my son, daughter, grandson whatever. And they're playing football on a field, or they're at a dance recital or they're doing something way far away. How come my speedlight doesn't light them up. And the answer is well because you are 200 feet away. So you can't just get, it's not magic. They're not going to go that far. And so there are distance limitations between the speedlight and how you can get there. The solution to that by the way is to take the flash off the camera, mount it to something close to where they are, and trigger it with the pocket wizard or some other radio trigger. So get the flash close and the camera far, you'll be fine. And battery angst. So batteries die all the time in speedlights and so I can't, we had it happening earlier today where we were trying to trigger the flash and that battery was like ah I give up I'm done. So with studio strobes you eliminate that and then my favorite reason that I don't use speedlight a lot is TTL metering is something that some have mastered and are terrific at it. I don't like it at all. And so almost always when I'm using a speedlight I'm shooting in full manual mode on the speedlight and the camera because I'm so used to working that way. TTL metering tends to just change its mind at any given moment. Like we saw earlier when we were shooting Lex that front light there just all of a sudden said I don't need to be that bright. And so we had to make an adjustment after we already had it dialed in. And so that can be very frustrating as you're working through things. Now with practice, and with using the same gear and the same situations. You're gonna get beyond that. And so that issue is mainly me. But I know that they're a lot of people, you know David Hobby does this all the time and has for a billion years. And Joe Bailey and all the names that we know. They don't have these issues so much. But I think they both shoot in full manual mode if I'm correct. Yes. Do get over to help combat the recycle times, are there batteries that are better than others? Yes, there is a company called Quantum and they make external battery packs that I believe are the best batteries out there. Much better than the Nikon and Canon battery packs. And then, there are different types of double A batteries that you can use and the batteries that I've used for years and it used to be a disciplinary offense in my studio if you bought any battery that wasn't Duracell. I know that sounds crazy but if you came in with a battery that wasn't Duracell, then you would get in trouble because I'm so particular about those batteries. So in my experience Duracell batteries live up to the expectations. Rechargeable versus unrechargable? Unrechargable in my experience they perform much better. Okay. The problem is now you have a landfill full of recyclable batteries and they're expensive. I recommend getting a Quantum battery pack. Okay. You can charge it over and over again. And they work great. Yes. But the 420 and below don't have a plug on it to-- Yes. To plug that in so it has to be the top of the line at least on the Canon side I don't know. Yeah and that's another great point I said yesterday. Somebody asked what flash they should buy and I said get the top of the line one and those are the types of the things you're gonna find over and over again if you buy a flash that's not the best. You'll find out oh, I can't put an external battery pack on there, I didn't know that. Oh I can't use this as a master controller for other flashes I didn't know that. Oh this doesn't zoom the way I thought it did. I can't do that. Oh this doesn't flop down so I can do close up photography I didn't understand that. Oh, the list goes on and on and on. It's just not readily apparent when you first buy the flash that there are all these things that you are missing out on unless you are only using it once in a while to do birthday parties and things like that. You probably don't need that. But if you are a professional photogrpaher you have to spend the 600 dollars to get the flash that's the right one. Yeah do that.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers. 

The success of every photographer — artistically and professionally — is based on a strong understanding of how light works. Join photographer Mark Wallace for a three-day course that will demystify the fundamentals of lighting and give you the concrete skills you need to get a powerful image using the right lighting every time you shoot.

Mark will cover everything you need to know about hard, soft, directional, and diffused light. You’ll learn about reading natural light and manipulating it with tools like reflectors and diffusion panels. Mark will also guide you through working with light in a studio environment. You’ll explore using basic studio lights to manipulate and shape light and working with strobes and speedlights. You’ll also learn about shooting on-location and how to balance shape, and color ambient light and light from a flash.

By the end of this course, you’ll be equipped with a whole new understanding of light that will help you to shoot more efficiently, capture consistently well-lit images, and reach new creative heights as a photographer.

Class Materials

bonus material with purchase

Presentation 1

Presentation 2

Presentation 3

Zone Lighting Basic Setup

Gear List

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

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Claudia Ochsner

This is an excellent course. I recommend this course to every photographer, of any level who want to put money into lighting stuff. Mark Wallace has a gift to teach and to truly enlighten his audience about complex issues in photography. The money for this course is well spent, the time is more valuable than hanging around in forums and ask questions to others who don't have a clue as well. The products used ( partly promoted ) are very "American" - I have to say that as Swiss. Because you know there are two other brands which could compete at the top level of studio lights as well. Just kidding - But seriously - many thanks to Mark, John, Lex ( Gosh - you are so beautiful ) , CL and their team to help me to reach out for a new level in my photography. I am now going to push my boundaries, well knowing that understanding light is science, but for sure not rocket science.

Rose-Marie Gallagher

This was an outstanding course! Mark presented TONS of quality information, starting at the very basic concepts and working up from there. He is interesting to listen to and very understandable. Great examples that expand the learning. Highly recommended! Thanks for bringing Mark's class to CL...I hope there will be more.

a Creativelive Student

This is probably the first Creative Live course I have purchased that I've watched in its entirety. Every single solitary video. I feel so strongly about Mark's teaching ability that this is also the very time I have written a review. I first came across Mark Wallace on Adorama TV. Interesting and so knowledgeable. So I explored and found other tutorials by Mark on Pocket Wizard. So when Creative Live offered this three day course - I bought it without hesitation. Mark makes the difficult - easy to comprehend and the un-understandable - understandable. I have learned so much from him and I haven't even met the guy! There are so many questions I'd like to ask - that doesn't mean that the videos were lacking in any respect. Rather, time constraints prevented Mark from covering topics he wanted to cover. I am definitely going to purchase the original Mark Wallace Creative Live course on Speedlights. I am also voting for a course: "28 days with Mark Wallace," so that we can tap into his genius with Lighting. How about it Creative Live? Bravo Mark - a very successful course. I am looking forward to the next one.