Flash photography made easy: how to use rear curtain flash for cool motion effects
In this section of our flash photography tutorial we’ll show you how to master the art of rear curtain flash photography and improve your action photography in an instant.
Rear (or second) curtain flash is a setting on your digital SLR that instructs the flash to fire at the end of an exposure rather than the beginning.
This flash photography tip is relatively easy to master and can be used to give your action shots a wonderful sense of movement and energy.
It can be a little tricky, but all you need is a bit of practice to get the effect you want. Typically, the burst of light from a flashgun is much faster than a camera’s shutter speed – for example, a Nikon SB900 has a flash speed of 1/880 sec at full power.
If your camera’s shutter speed is set to 1/60sec and you’re also using a flash, it will appear to the naked eye that the shutter and flash are firing simultaneously.
However, the flash is really like a super-fast exposure within the longer (1/60 sec) exposure.
Don’t stop moving
The default setting for most D-SLRs specifies that the flash fires at the beginning of an exposure and in most cases this is perfectly fine.
However, if you find yourself in a shooting situation where you want to use a slower shutter speed, such as 0.5 sec, you’ll start to notice the flash firing within the longer exposure.
If your subject is moving – whether it’s dancers on a dance floor or fast-moving cyclists – and you want to combine long-exposure panning techniques with flash, you’ll notice that when the flash fires at the beginning of the exposure it will freeze the subject, and the subsequent movement throughout the remaining exposure will be recorded on top.
This freezing of the action before the movement can make the subject look like it’s moving backwards through the frame.
The solution? Set the flash to fire at the end of the long exposure and you’ll freeze the action and capture the movement created by the long exposure. This will create a more dynamic and action-packed shot.
Rear curtain flash is guaranteed to improve your action shots, but you’ll need to practice the technique until you get it right.
Take a portrait with your DSLR set to rear curtain sync and move the camera during a long exposure. You should get a sharp shot of your subject and also capture interesting movement in the background.
Practice makes perfect
Combine slow shutter speeds with flash, set your camera to rear (or second) curtain sync and shoot some action. It’s best to master your technique in your own time, rather than trying it out on location when it’s essential you get your shot first time.
PAGE 1: Find your way around a flashgun
PAGE 2: Master fill-in flash
PAGE 3: How to use rear curtain flash for cool motion effects
PAGE 4: What is diffused light?
PAGE 5 How to buy or make a diffuser
PAGE 6: See the effects of diffused light
PAGE 7: What is off-camera flash?
PAGE 8: How to position your off-camera flash
PAGE 9: Off-camera flash photography cheat sheet
PAGE 10: How to use multiple flashguns creatively
PAGE 11: Using radio triggers in your flash photography
Best camera focus techniques: 10 surefire ways to get sharp photos
Digital camera modes explained: choose the best shooting mode for your subject
New camera anatomy: 12 key camera settings to get you started right
Studio lighting: 4 seriously simple lighting techniques to try at home