When using flash as the main light source, sometimes I was ending up with an overexposed subject and dark background. A couple of weeks ago, I tried a technique called “dragging the shutter” which comes very handy to get the background better exposed or include more ambient light.
Normally, I shoot at 1/60-1/125 of a second with flash. But when I want more ambient light in a photograph, I drag my shutter down to around 1/15 of a second (the value depends on the available ambient light). By keeping the shutter open that fraction of a second longer, the camera is able to pick up more ambient light from the background, producing warmer photos with more detail.
Let’s look at these two photos. Not particularly great, but they illustrate the point. Both were taken seconds apart with a Canon 5D Mark II in RAW format and there is no post-processing other than converting to JPEG, cropping and resizing.
1/60 sec, f/4.0, ISO 800
1/10 sec, f/4.0, ISO 800
As you can see the second photo look so much better. The ambient light makes the image look more natural and warmer.
If you are using a point-and-shoot camera, here are a few tips on how to achieve this effect:
- If your camera allows you to shoot in manual mode, or if you can manually adjust your shutter speed settings, then choose a shutter speed of around 1/15 of a second (again the value depends on the available ambient light). If you can’t shoot in manual mode, night-scene mode should give a similar effect.
- Change the camera settings so that the flash always fires.
- If the camera allows setting flash exposure compensation, you can reduce the flash output (and thus reduce flash shadows) by setting flash exposure compensation to a negative number.
The trade-off with dragging the shutter is that you’re often using really slow shutter speeds, meaning camera shake and subject movement can become factors. Sometimes ghosting can appear around the frozen subject.