Dragging The Shutter At The Daddy/Daughter Dance


Feb 6, 2015
Central Ohio, USA
I was hired to get portraits at a father/daughter dance for the Reynoldsburg Parks and Recreation department.

While there, I also agreed to get some grab shots in between formal shots. I had my Nikon Df tied up with the portraits, so I broke out the Olympus OMD EM1 with the Olympus 25/1.8 prime lens.

As you can imagine, a dance setting has lots of darkness, filled with bright specular lights randomly bouncing off of every surface and person. This event was no exception.

1/20, f/2.5, ISO 800 - no flash

1/80, f/2.5, ISO 2500 - no flash

These first couple of shots were taken without flash, to give you an idea of what the ambient levels were and the shooting conditions. For those interested, the EM1, while a tad slower to focus than normal, nailed focus 99% of the time - I was very impressed.

I knew that shooting this way, even at higher ISO, would not give me what I was looking for and I'd have to break out a speed light. I do not have an Olympus specific speed light, but do have plenty of Nikon, so I used the SB-600. It is a little big for the EM1, but I use my fingers to support the weight of the speed light.

This next shot was taken using the flash in manual mode at around 1/16th power and shot directly at the dance floor.

1/200, f/4, ISO 800 - Flash at 1/16th power

Well, they are well illuminated, but we have lost all ambient lighting. Still not what I am looking to provide to my client.

Next, we bounced the light off the ceiling, which required the SB-600 to be powered to around 1/4 power. There were some pretty tall ceilings.

1/200, f/2.8, ISO 1250 - flash at 1/8 power

As you can see, the quality of light is getting better, but still not enough give us the mix of ambient light and motion stopping power.

As you might have noticed, the shutter speed on these images were running around 1/200th.

What happens if we "drag the shutter"? Dragging the shutter is a term used when you purposefully leave the shutter open for a longer duration and freeze the action of the moving subjects with the flash pulse.

1/15, f/2.8, ISO 1250 - flash at 1/8 power bounced off ceiling

In this case, we were running around 1/15-1/30 of a second and we start to get some good shots, that mix the ambient light along with the flash pulse to give us a better feeling and mood of the event that night.

Here are some more examples:

1/15, f/2.8, ISO 1250, flash at 1/8 bounced off ceiling

1/15, f/2.8, ISO 1250, flash at 1/8 bounced off ceiling

In the end, the take away is that you need to experiment and find that technique that will give you what you are looking for. In this case, an old favorite, dragging the shutter, gave some interesting flavor and set a mood that expressed the feeling of the event.

For those interested in my main presence there - here are some of the portraits!

Lighting setup was pretty simple, main light to camera left(AB400) at 1/8 power, secondary light(AB400) to camera right at 1/16 power. Both through umbrella boxes.

Nikon Df with Nikkor 50/1.8D at 1/200, ISO 200, f/4
Processed in Lightroom 5.7 using Nik Analog Efex(Bokeh) and Nik Silver Efex Pro 2(custom B&W - base Panatomic 25 film simulation with a bit of Film Noir 3 type settings).

We wanted a quick in and out process so that the families could have as much time having fun as possible.

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