Street Photography and Rear Curtain Sync.

Colour Splash…

What is it?

Those of you that follow this blog regularly will know I have been trying to master flash photography for a while. I have failed on many occasions, but each failure is getting me closer to what I want to achieve. My last post looked at off-camera flash, and I was excited to share the photos I captured. This weekend I headed out to try my luck with rear curtain sync.

What is Rear Curtain Sync?

‘Curtain’ really means ‘shutter’. The shutter has two parts to it, or curtains. One part opens, allows the light in, and then the second curtain shuts. The flash can be timed to trigger just after the front curtain opens, just before the curtain shuts, or it can operate at the same speed as the shutter. I set my camera to rear curtain and adjusted the camera for a long exposure.

To get the effect I was looking for, I set camera’s shutter speed to between 1/2 and 1/10 sec and set the flash to rear curtain mode. Setting the camera up this way creates an effect that blurs everything that comes before the flash, and then, just before the shutter closes, freezes what ever is in front of you. As a slow shutter speed is needed, this technique is best used in the very last moments of the day, and under artificial light (note – when the light is bright, it is hard to achieve a slow shutter speed).


Is it Hard?

This is a simple set up to undertake with your camera gear. Getting ‘good’ photos is also fairly easy. However, I think it will be hard to achieve excellence, and there is a wide gulf between good and great! The tricky part is getting the exposure triangle correct. At the moment, these are the settings I find work best for me.

  • ISO between 800 – 1600
  • f8 – f9 (to get the last part of the photo in focus)
  • Shutter speed 1/4 – 1/10 sec

This is a rough guide and may help you as a starting point. The camera was usually in aperture priority mode, although I played with shutter priority. Next time I may go manual, set the speed and f-stop, then put the set the camera to auto ISO. Lastly, I found that messy backgrounds often worked better than plain backgrounds. A messy lit background forms an artistic (I think) blur, while the subject is sharp, providing a strong contrast.

Get Close…


I like the effect rear curtain flash provides, although it is a bit of a one-trick pony. This is not a technique that is likely to become my mainstay, as I like to see the details around my subject. When day turns to night this will be a valuable tool to have in my pocket, and I can see it would be an excellent technique for using at clubs and festivals. As the subject becomes the central focus of the image, there is a need to find people that are visually appealing, and then you need to get close. This photography technique requires a quite in-your-face Bruce Gilden style approach!

I have posted the best of the images I captured. I’m pretty pleased with the results, as always, further practice will improve the hit rate.

Keep Clicking, Chris

8 Comments on “Street Photography and Rear Curtain Sync.

  1. That’s an interesting result Chris. I like the one you’ve entitled ‘unsharp’ as it has an artistic dreamy quality about it. Will it work with a built in flash do you think?


  2. I’ve set up the Olympus OM-D E-M1 with it’s accessory flash as it’s quite compact and I’ll see if I can get some results late afternoon, early evening. I also have an old Vivitar flashgun that has a wired link to the on-camera sensor. I may give that a try but it’s a bit of a beast to handle!


  3. I like to use a 1-second exposure especially if there is a lot of movement like dancing or at a festival.


    • I will try this with a longer exposure. I’m also keen to give this a go at a club or festival.


  4. great article, I have tried this with the build-in flash of my Fuji lately, I have set ISO to 200, that worked good as there was enough artificial light, and I too want to experiment more with this technique


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s