This morning I think I hit the snooze button a few too many times. As in, every five minutes from 5:45 to 6:30. I think it tricks my brain into thinking I’m actually getting more sleep than I would if I’d just get up at 6:30. Corey says that when we get married it has to stop, because he won’t be able to handle it. But I’m pretty sure I’m now in the habit.
Anyway, moving on…
The topic of mixing flash with ambient light was brought up last week in a forum I’m a member of, and I also had a couple conversations about it with two different photographer friends this weekend (Hi, Michelle and Allison!). Major thanks to Chris Hsieh for teaching me this trick a few months ago. When I got my first speedlite, I had no idea how to use it and make it look natural. Yes, I knew how to bounce it off of the wall behind me in my living room (which always works!), but what about in a big ballroom at a wedding reception that doesn’t have walls nearby? I used to be so terrified of using flash. But now, not so much.
The technique is called dragging the shutter, and with your hot-shoe mounted flash (or even the pop-up flash, I suppose), you can easily hand hold slow shutter speeds like 1/30th and still get crisp images. This is what I do. It might not be the right way. And it might not work for some people. But it works for me!
I set my flash to ETTL (which is basically like automatic mode for flashes). I control the amount of output by changing the exposure compensation dial. If I need more power, I set the dial to +2/3, and if I need less, I’ll maybe set it to -1/3. Some photographers absolutely hate ETTL mode, because they don’t have full manual control. But by riding the exposure compensation dial, it gives me enough control to make the images I need.
Here’s an example of an image with a regular shutter speed. The flowers are exposed properly, but the background of the image is pretty dark, leading the viewer to assume flash was used. I don’t like it to be obvious that I used my flash, so I’m not a big fan of this image..
Then I changed the shutter speed from 1/200 second to 1/30 second. The flash still exposes the flowers the same (I’d probably pull back the highlights a little bit in this image), but the slower shutter speed allows for the background to be exposed more properly. And since the flash fired, it freezes most of the movement that you’d normally see at 1/30 of a second. I prefer this image over the first.
Here are a couple more examples of dragging the shutter. I’m sure there are a lot smarter people out there, so if you have some more tips about this, feel free to jump in to the conversation in the comments!