Go with the flow
Combine a constant light source with an off-camera flashgun and waltz your way into slow sync flash photography with Jason Parnell-Brookes
Use slow sync flash to capture a sharp shot of a dancer plus a motion trail
Capturing dance through stills photography can be a real challenge; the movement of a dancer has to be conveyed in a static image. Some photographers will photograph a dancer mid-leap, others will get the dancer to hold intricate poses. But there’s another way to capture dance: using slow sync flash photography.
What does slow sync flash photography mean? Well, it’s the simple act of using a long exposure, combined with a flash firing at either the beginning or end of the period when the shutter is open. The long exposure allows ambient light to expose the scene, and the flash provides a momentary burst of light to freeze any motion. For our photo we worked with a professional dancer, but you could just use an enthusiastic friend running and leaping into the frame.
Depending on the power of your lights, your settings will vary. Our settings were f/10 at 4 secs and ISO200. This kept the depth of field nice and deep, maintaining good focus on the performer as he moved around the scene. The four seconds were all the dancer needed to complete his move, while ISO200 ensured that our images would be free of noise.
It’s best to shoot against a plain wall or black backdrop. Have your dancer stand in front of the backdrop, and position a flash to the right of the camera shooting into the scene, and a continuous light (or desk lamp) to the left, to provide the ambient light.
The key to this technique is to set so-called ‘rear-curtain sync’, which means the flash fires at the end of the exposure rather at the beginning. If your dancer is moving from left to right, this will result in an image with a blur of movement and colour on the left, and a crisp, sharp dancer at the end of the blur trail on the right.
Slow sync flash photography is the simple act of using a long exposure, combined with a flash firing at either the beginning or end of the period when the shutter is open