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How to drag the shutter

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Mason Resnick is the editor of the Adorama Learning Center and a lifetime photography enthusiast.

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How to drag the shutter

Create "ghosts" in your camera

When little gouls and goblins come knocking tonight, be prepared with a photographic treat that you can enjoy all year long. Grab ghostly shots of your subjects by using flash and long exposure.



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The effect--a clear subject surrounded by a blur has been used by photographers for decades to add an element of creativity and surprise to their pictures.

I've used this technique in black-and-white, along with a journalistic approach, when photographing weddings. I often use the "bulb" setting, which lets me keep the shutter open as long as my finger is on the shutter release, while moving the camera around slightly during the exposure. The background is rendered blurry while the foreground subject is frozen, with a trailing ghost-like image. Sometimes, the effect can be pretty wild.

What's going on? Don't ask! Wild carryings-on at a wedding are made even wilder by combining a flash with a half-second exposure. Camera: Leica M3, 35mm f/3.5 Summaron lens, Vivitar 283 flash. It's even easier to do with modern, automated cameras. Photo © 1987 Mason Resnick

When using flash at its normal settings, override the shutter speed. If you don't have a bulb setting, choose a longer exposure of at least 1/8 second. Experiment with even longer exposures, as much as a second or even more, depending on the lighting. Digital cameras have the advantage here: You can check the results in the LCD monitor and adjust on the fly. 

 

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