Slow Shutter Portraits

Future Rapha model in the making.

Future Rapha model in the making.

As winter begins to settle in and bike racing comes to an end for the season, I want to keep my skills sharp and learn new techniques. Flash photography is still fairly new to me and there are some many creative ways of using it. A specific technique that I had first seen by fellow Canadian photographer Julien Payette-Tessier and later by British photographer Sean Hardy, was flash photography combined with slow shutter.

Similar to using slow shutter to show cyclists blurring past spectators or adding motion to the environment behind the rider, it makes the image feel fast. And feeling fast is a big part of cycling.

It took me a while to search what the technique was called. In most cases it's second curtain flash photography. Normally, the flash will fire at the end of the exposure, having motion travel behind the subject. But since I was doing this project on my own, and wanted to make sure I would always get the pose I wanted. Otherwise, doing the movement first and then striking a pose would be difficult to achieve consistent results every time. 

The above image was my first attempt at trying slow shutter flash photography. For this, I had set my shutter speed as low as 5 seconds. I got some great motion in the image but I think the length of shot made certain areas appear more faded (such as my face.) 

The images above are my second attempt at this technique. After bringing the first round of images into Capture One, I figured I should shorten the shutter speed and slow my motion down to improve my results.

I still had the flash set to front curtain sync, so it would flash at the beginning of the exposure and then I would do my motion. This would allow me to pose and then add whatever motion I wanted.

Shutter speed varied from 1.5 seconds to 2 second at most, so less than half of what I had before. With this, I found that pose seemed much clearer than the 5 second exposure and with slowing my motion after the flash, those motion trails were more defined as well.

With my lighting setup, I had my flash in a 3'x3' softbox with a grid to make the light more directional. It was above my head around 45d from the camera, typical Rembrandt lighting. About 2m to the right and slightly behind me was a 200w LED light that I put a purple/magenta gel on to colourize the light a bit. This helped to define the motion after the flash and also added a highlight to the posed part of the flash.

Below is the set of images I produced from my third attempt at the slow shutter portraits. My set up was very similar to last time since I was happy with those results. Instead I switched the lights around, so now the softbox was left of camera and the blue gelled 200w light was right of camera. Again, the exposures were about 1.5-2 seconds in length.

This time I really knew how to get the right trails. Less is more, so slow movements towards the gelled light produced the best look I was going for. In the future I will want to try this with different backdrop papers and have a proper studio space. For the time being, my apartment's living room will have to do!

  • No Comments
Powered by SmugMug Owner Log In