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What do bullets, apples and wedding photography have in common?

Marc Williams , Feb 07, 2006; 06:08 a.m.

A previous thread here has prompted this new one discussing the use of on camera flash, and the selection of slower hand held shutter speeds (AKA, "dragging the shutter).

Some people persist in questioning being able to get sharp images of subjects while hand holding at 1/20th (or even less, depending on the level of ambient light), when using a modern flash. This is actually a fascinating subject, with it's own roots in photographic history.

The principle of using a short burst of light to freeze the subject started early on, but truly came into it's own when Dr. Harold Edgerton of M.I.T., developed the Xenon flash tube ... which is the basis of today's modern flash that we all use. This short burst of intense light is what allows us to make a photograph in darker ambient conditions using a slower shutter speed than we'd normally be able to hand-hold ... because it is the duration of the flash that does the freezing, not the shutter speed of the camera.

It is said that modern flashes for on camera use have durations from about 1/1000th of a second when used at full power/duration, to 1/10,000, depending on how much light is needed. Powerful studio strobes are often a bit less when used at full power (like 1/800th). So, in darker conditions like we face at a reception, you can drag the shutter to pick up more ambient background light, while the short duration of the flash lights the subject at 1/1000th of a second.

To exaggerate the idea, enter a pitch dark room, set the camera's shutter speed to 1/10th of a second, pre-focus the camera and have a person jump in the air as you fire a shot. They will be sharp.

In a crude way, this is exactly how Edgerton made photos of a bullet piercing an apple ... not with shutter speed, but with flash duration (and the help of sophisticated triggering equipment ; -)

Google High Speed Photography for an interesting visit to the world of flash use.


Just like shooting the Bride tossing the Bouquet (sort of ; -)

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JF R , Feb 07, 2006; 06:15 a.m.

I've studied physics for a year. We always used stroboscopes in a darkroom with non reflective walls for experiments where a high-speed camera was involved.

Could be nice to use a stroboscope for the bouquet toss. The background would be just as it would always be, only you'll have a lot of flowers in the air :)

Steve Levine , Feb 07, 2006; 07:12 a.m.

All flash photos are actually "double exposures". You are simultaneously creating a pair of exposures based collectively on the sum of flash & ambient light levels hitting the film (or sensor). The goal is normally to achieve a balance between these two.

The closer the flash & ambient levels are to each other, the better the flash picture. When the levels are correctly balanced, the use of flash isn't so obvious either.

As a matter of routine, I shoot indoor flash at 1/8th or 1/15th second shutter speed. I have found that sometimes the ambient background will blur slightly, and the flash lit subjects remain frozen. This can be used to your advantage as a "special effect", when there are candles or small bulbs that will blurr in the background.

The first time this happened(years ago accidentally), the couple loved the pictures, so I try a few dancing shots at each wedding with flash & a full second shutter speed.

Being old school, I always shoot at F8 with flash to let the DOF help me focus. Unfortunately with 400 speed film in a dark church or reception hall, the correct shutter speed is about 1 second at F8. So my 1/8th or 1/15th second drags are still 3-4 stops underexposed.

The last thing to remember is that the opposite of shutter dragging is also useful. You can crank up your shutter speed to the camera's maximum sync speed, and eliminate distracting backgrounds. Normally this is considered bad photography when flash falls off in a photo, causing that "shot in cave" look. However, when there is enough bad background to ruin your shot, this technique can save the day.

Larry Schaefer - Chicago, IL , Feb 07, 2006; 08:47 a.m.

The bullet piercing the apple is spectacular much like the bullet that has passed through the ballon before it bursts and deflates. Ballistic applesauce, yummmm.

Steve, great post. Two methods well demonstrated as well as explained.

Kari Douma - Grand Rapids, Michigan , Feb 07, 2006; 08:48 a.m.

This is something I am still struggling with. I have a hard time with dragging my shutter, because I feel I still get too much blurred stuff. I know that some people like it, but I don't. I don't like it when I can see ghosting, or lights in the background that "move" from camera movement (I know, use a tripod), or people in the background that are blurred. A lot of pros see this as good and creative, or a "special effect" like Steve mentions. I see a lot of photographers bragging up photos with this kind of look, that a particular photo is artistic and one of their best. I just don't like it! I would throw it in the trash can! Why can't I feel like the rest of you? Why do I want everything pin sharp? Am I not creative or artistic enough? Am I too much in my box? Do I need to step outside the box? It seams at most weddings I try dragging the shutter a little, and I end up not using them. Here is one that I did use, and I kind of like, but I almost threw it away. It is still borderline in my book.


Draging to 1/10th

Larry Schaefer - Chicago, IL , Feb 07, 2006; 09:08 a.m.

This one was well liked.


Are you ready 0.3 sec f/4.5 24mm ISO 100

Larry Schaefer - Chicago, IL , Feb 07, 2006; 09:19 a.m.

Another in that series.


Mining the Garter

Larry Schaefer - Chicago, IL , Feb 07, 2006; 09:42 a.m.

Kari

Do you not like the look of a shutter dragged shot because you are having difficulty with the technique? Practice should get that for you.

If you simply aren't impressed with blurry shots and guests with stretched out heads in the backround thats cool too. You just don't persue that look in the Kari Douma style.

Remember most people don't know how to get "effects" therefore they become somewhat impressed with what they can't do. You have knowledge of shutter dragging, know why it looks that way, and may not like it for what it is. Thats okay.

David Schilling comments about the black and white bride with the Photoshop color bouquet. Forum concensus is that its old hat but when ever I show it to someone it still is good for oooooh's and ahhhhhh's. It's a bit like magic I think.

If you need to drag the shutter you will find a way.

Marc St.Onge , Feb 07, 2006; 09:43 a.m.

In answer to Kari, hey, you like what you like -- no explanation needed. That's why they make chocolate and vanilla.

The attached picture is one of my favorites (for some ungodly reason). I, too, like to include a few shots like this to provide variety and give the illusion of motion to the dancing. This is where digital helps because I have to shoot a lot of them to get 1 or 2 worth keeping. I think with film you'd get discouraged too fast with film cost and lack of immediate feedback limiting your ability to experiment.

Marc St.Onge


Attachment: dance.jpg

Steve Levine , Feb 07, 2006; 09:46 a.m.

The answer to "filling" the background, is to use a slaved fired 2nd light.


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