Flash Photography:

Creative Strobe Settings for Beginners

  • Have you been wanting to get creative with flash photography?
  • Do something other than point-and-shoot?
  • Perhaps create dazzling images with beautiful motion blurs and crisp sharpness?

Then this is the perfect article you need to get started.

Slow Sync Flash

When experimenting in flash photography, Slow Sync Flash (or Rear Curtain Sync as it’s more commonly called) is a function that a pop-up flash on a DSLR camera or off-camera flash may have. This allows you to choose when your flash fires.

Doing so, opens up a world of creative light tricks for you to try with your photography.

car with light trails behind flash photography

Rear Curtain Sync

You can create interesting effects when a subject is in motion. Rear Curtain Sync creates an image with a sharp main subject but also skewers the path of any ambient light, creating whispy light trails.

How It Works:

The flash is fired at the end of the exposure cycle, just as the shutter is about to close. This then creates the effect that the main subject is frozen.

Yet the background holds movement and ‘speed lines’ appear, created by the subject’s movement prior to the flash firing.

lady with hand touching cheek

Top Tip – Use a slow shutter speed around 1-3 seconds to make the lines of movement appear. S/Tv Mode will enable your shutter priority mode to give you control over your shutter rate. Make sure you’re using a tripod with any of these techniques too!

Front Curtain Sync

How It Works:

In opposition, if you were to use a flash on a normal setting (called Front Curtain Sync) combined with slow shutter speed, the subject would be frozen at the beginning of the exposure.

This time the ‘speed lines’ would precede (be in front of) the subject as opposed to behind. Regular flash photography settings also tend to create a darker background as it picks up less of the ambient light.

glitter female front curtain flash photography sync motion blur

Top Tip – Most flashes tend to be set to Front Curtain Sync as a default. Look at your menu settings on your camera or off-camera flash to change the synchronisation.

Rear v Front Comparison

Have a look at these examples of flash photography to understand the two methods in practice…

front curtain flash sync example dancer

Front Curtain: Imagine if you were photographing a dancer, for instance. Moving from the left to right of a stage. With Front Curtain Sync, the dancer would be sharp on the left-hand side of the stage, with the motion blur moving across to the right.

front curtain flash sync example dancer

Rear Curtain: If you are shooting on Rear Curtain Sync,  the movement trails would start on the left-hand side but freeze the dancer on the right-hand side of the stage. In this scenario, Rear Curtain Sync would be the setting as it gives the impression that the dancer was moving across the stage.

Camera Settings

With a Bridge, Mirrorless or DSLR camera, you may be allowed to operate ‘slow sync’ flash manually. Yet on many compact cameras, it will be an automatically set flash photography function known as night mode or party mode.

Using these presets will limit your control, but with a little experimentation, along with the skills that you have learnt on our iPhotography courses, you can still create some very interesting effects.

In manual mode (M on a camera dial), you can often change the power output of your off-camera flash and your shutter speed time on your camera. This will allow you to time your shots to perfection.

Otherwise, if you’re using a party or night mode, then the camera will automatically choose the strength of the flash and the length of time that the shutter is open for depending on its measured metering.

Top Tip – You can use Shutter Priority (S/Tv on a camera dial) as well as Manual for flash photography.

Ambient Lighting

The effects of using different flash sync methods draw an audience deeper within the image, adding a real sense of energy, power and movement.

You will need to have some ambient lighting present in order for these effects to work, otherwise, the movement trails won’t be visible.

Try using slow sync flash at large concerts, fairgrounds with carousel rides, nightclubs with dancers, teenagers skateboarding (or performing tricks on their bikes) and sporting events.

big wheel funfair sunset photographers flash photography

Send Us Your Shots

Have you been trying out creative flash photography? If so, send us your shots!

Post your photos in the iPhotography gallery and let us know how it went. Did you find any problems that we didn’t warn you about? Our iPhotography community is better prepared if we all share our experiences and learn from each other. The iPhotography Light Tricks course is packed with modules about basic and creative flash photography.

Did you enjoy this guide? Let us know. Don’t forget to check out our blogs page for other great sources of inspiration, motivation, tips and tricks to make your photography look incredible.

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