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5 creative indoor portrait ideas - Part 5: Shutter drag

(Image credit: Tom Calton)

Shutter drag is a flash technique that creates colourful swirls of light across your photos, while ensuring that your subject is frozen in place. It works by combining flash with a slow shutter speed, and all you need is a camera with a flashgun attached to the top.

Every shot you take will give you completely different results, based on the direction and speed you move the camera around while the shutter is open. So, take a number of shots, and then look through the results to check that you’re getting the shots you’re looking for!

Shutter drag technique in six steps

(Image credit: Tom Calton)
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1. Shoot in Manual

For this technique, start off by switching your camera over to Manual mode (M on the mode dial), and set the aperture to f/16 to restrict the amount of light that is entering the camera. 

(Image credit: Tom Calton)

2. Slow shutter speed

In order to achieve the swirling trails of light, you’re going to need to use a slow shutter speed. So select this now – an exposure of around 1sec should be plenty slow enough.

(Image credit: Tom Calton)
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3. Set a low ISO

Next, reduce the ISO sensitivity to the lowest setting available on your camera, to reduce the amount of noise within your image and balance the exposure settings. This is usually around ISO 100.

(Image credit: Tom Calton)
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4. Flash settings

Turn on your flashgun, and attach it to the top of your camera via the hotshoe port. Set the power output to around  ower to begin with, though you may need to increase or decrease this later.

(Image credit: Tom Calton)

5. Test shot

With your model in place, frame up and take a shot. Once the flash has fired, move the camera around in a twisting motion until the shutter closes. Review the results. If the flash is too bright or dark, adjust accordingly.

(Image credit: Tom Calton)

6. Rinse and repeat

Once you have the exposure perfected, keep taking shots and reviewing them periodically. This technique is all about trial and error, so keep experimenting until you have a result that you’re happy with.

Every photo you take will provide a different result and each capture is totally unique

Every photo you take will provide a different result and each capture is totally unique (Image credit: Tom Calton)

Read more: 

Best 85mm lenses for portraits (opens in new tab)
Portrait photographers to follow this year (opens in new tab)
Home photography ideas (opens in new tab)

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