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Using Rear-Curtain Sync for Wedding Receptions + Events

I’m a member of a few organizations that meet monthly or a few times a year. One of my absolute favorites is the Piatt County Camera Club, and I tag-teamed teaching this month with my friend Judd. He talked about high-speed sync (which I’m going to finally master this year!) and I talked about rear-curtain sync. We also watched a video by Adorama that is a good intro to rear-curtain sync if you’re not familiar with it.

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Rear-curtain sync is something that I have used for years and in fact, I have it turned on in my camera almost all the time, as it doesn’t affect anything if I’m not using a flash or a slow shutter speed. I’m a Nikon shooter though, and setup is a bit different if you’re a Canon shooter (I’m not sure about Sony, Fuji, etc — sorry!). With the Canon system, you select rear-curtain, sometimes called 2nd curtain, on the FLASH and not the camera. There’s a symbol with 3 triangles, and that option is available on Canon brand speedlights, and some other brands as well. Check your user’s manual to be sure.

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Now, why on earth would someone use rear-curtain sync?

For me, I find it very appealing for dark events where I’m using an on-camera flash, namely wedding receptions. It allows me to slow down my shutter speed to pull in more ambient light (also called dragging the shutter), but still freeze my subject(s) with my flash. I usually slow my shutter down to around 1/30 of a second (sometimes slower!), which causes a bit of ghosting, but I also am able to pull in things like uplighting, DJ lights, monogram lights, and chandeliers — basically any ambient light in the room. By slowing my shutter speed, I also don’t have to sacrifice as much ISO and so avoid getting too much grain in my images.

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It can also be fun to move your camera while the shutter is open. I sometimes will twist my camera in a circular motion or in a diagonal direction during the exposure. I’ve also seen people move their camera in a full circle, or a kind of zig-zag motion. This is an awesome time to experiment and play with your flashes! People are dancing and having a good time, and you have the freedom of the important stuff being over and done.

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So what is rear-curtain sync exactly?

A camera has two curtains on either side of the sensor — a front curtain & a rear curtain (or 1st & 2nd). The first curtain opens to expose the sensor, and then the 2nd curtain closes to stop the exposure. By default, your flash is set to fire at the beginning of that exposure as soon as the first curtain opens. When using rear-curtain sync, the flash fires at the end of the exposure, just before the 2nd curtain closes. So as you can imagine, this doesn’t really make a difference on a fast shutter speed. In my opinion, you don’t really start to see the effects of it until you get slower than around 1/100 of a second.

I prefer rear-curtain sync over front-curtain sync for my wedding receptions because sometimes you don’t see as much of the subject as I’d like to once the blur/movement happens. If I freeze the motion at the beginning of the shot, it allows lighting and dance moves to overtake the subject — sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. It is definitely a preference thing, but give it a try and see if you like it!

My Fascination with Light

I have always been fascinated by light, but that fascination has definitely intensified since I became a photographer.  Once it clicked in my head (no pun intended) that light was the most important piece in making a photograph, my mind started spinning with ways to use and manipulate light.  I’m the person who goes to see a movie, and notices every beam of light, the direction of light, the color of light, the source of light, what is absorbing it and reflecting it, plus a ton of other things!  I do the same thing when we’re watching TV or Netflix at home too.

In observing television and movies in that way, I consider myself a student of light, and consider my “education” ongoing. I'm going to walk you through a few of my favorite TV series, movies, and just recent things we've watched.

La La Land was a full experience of the senses for me from the loads of color to dance ensembles to musical numbers to exceptional use of lighting.

La La Land was a full experience of the senses for me from the loads of color to dance ensembles to musical numbers to exceptional use of lighting.

I was blessed to have learned the basics of off-camera lighting early on in my career, and I enjoy pushing myself and my boundaries when it comes to using flash.  A couple years ago I purchased my first MagMod kit, and I love incorporating those pieces into my work and creating cool, dramatic, colorful images that it would be difficult to create without them.

I wanted to walk you through a few screenshots to show you what inspires me and get a little peek into what is going through my head when I watch a film or television show.

The Handmaid's Tale is another great study in the use of light and lack thereof.  One of my favorite cinematic uses of light is like this where you can see clear beams of light coming through a window or slat.

The Handmaid's Tale is another great study in the use of light and lack thereof.  One of my favorite cinematic uses of light is like this where you can see clear beams of light coming through a window or slat.

The Greatest Showman was an absolute treat for me.  Aside from the music (which everyone is raving about for good reason), the use of spotlights, backlights, "circus" lights, and colored lights just floored me. 

The Greatest Showman was an absolute treat for me.  Aside from the music (which everyone is raving about for good reason), the use of spotlights, backlights, "circus" lights, and colored lights just floored me. 

Another shot from The Greatest Showman's opening scene that immediately drew me in with the sawdusty-filtered light and silhouettes.  I knew from this moment, that this film would be a feast for my eyes (and ears!).

Another shot from The Greatest Showman's opening scene that immediately drew me in with the sawdusty-filtered light and silhouettes.  I knew from this moment, that this film would be a feast for my eyes (and ears!).

One other recent favorite was Wonder Woman, which had a lot of dark scenes that took place at dusk or after dark.  It's in the absence of light that we can witness more creativity with light, and this film definitely showed that.

One other recent favorite was Wonder Woman, which had a lot of dark scenes that took place at dusk or after dark.  It's in the absence of light that we can witness more creativity with light, and this film definitely showed that.

I think it's so interesting when moviemakers film scenes during the day, but make them look like night.  It makes sense though -- you have enough light to focus and be able to see your actors, but then you use a density filter or editing to darken everything without losing contrast or details.

I think it's so interesting when moviemakers film scenes during the day, but make them look like night.  It makes sense though -- you have enough light to focus and be able to see your actors, but then you use a density filter or editing to darken everything without losing contrast or details.

My husband and I started watching Breaking Bad a few weeks ago too, and while much of this show is filmed in the harsh New Mexico sun, there are also times when the lighting and visuals are truly outstanding.  In particular, a couple of scenes involving Walter White and Gus Fring sitting across from each other and talking stand out to me, kind of like this photo.

My husband and I started watching Breaking Bad a few weeks ago too, and while much of this show is filmed in the harsh New Mexico sun, there are also times when the lighting and visuals are truly outstanding.  In particular, a couple of scenes involving Walter White and Gus Fring sitting across from each other and talking stand out to me, kind of like this photo.

One last one before I move on to my own work -- I enjoy Scandal (this one NOT with the hubs -- haha!), and especially their use of lighting both during the daytime office scenes and the darker might scenes.  I also pay particular attention to the scenes in the office where the camera is shooting through something like a glass.  If you haven't noticed it before, watch for it!

One last one before I move on to my own work -- I enjoy Scandal (this one NOT with the hubs -- haha!), and especially their use of lighting both during the daytime office scenes and the darker might scenes.  I also pay particular attention to the scenes in the office where the camera is shooting through something like a glass.  If you haven't noticed it before, watch for it!

And now I'm going to show you some of my own work that shows the ways in which I use light and am learning to stretch my knowledge and talents. First up is probably my favorite image I created in all of 2017.  I wanted to really get to know my MagMod equipment and pinpoint light on an inanimate object or product (hence the beer), and I knew I also wanted to use my gelled lights in the background.  There was also a little help in there from some Atmosphere Aerosol too!  And so this image was born, and I absolutely LOVE it.

Abita Purple Haze  gets the spotlight in this favorite image from 2017!

Abita Purple Haze gets the spotlight in this favorite image from 2017!

If I were to have not used a flash here, I would have had to bump up my ISO a LOT to be able to see everything, and I really didn't want to see all the stuff in the background, and I wanted it to be dark back there.  So by keeping my ISO low and aiming my lights at just this table, your eye is drawn to it and not everything else in the room.  Plus, as a photographer who gravitates to bold, true-to-life color, I like that flash can give me that deep color I want.

If I were to have not used a flash here, I would have had to bump up my ISO a LOT to be able to see everything, and I really didn't want to see all the stuff in the background, and I wanted it to be dark back there.  So by keeping my ISO low and aiming my lights at just this table, your eye is drawn to it and not everything else in the room.  Plus, as a photographer who gravitates to bold, true-to-life color, I like that flash can give me that deep color I want.

First dance photos are where my off-camera flash (gridded, cross-lighting) really shines.  Again, I don't want to light up the whole room, but I want the bride and groom to be lit well.  This gives me a clear line of sight from the flash to their faces, and again gives me the true color and skin tones on them that I strive for.  One other thing of note on this image - the hair light you see behind their heads was actually a continuous video light from the videographer.  So even with using flash, I can still make use of ambient light, especially uplighting or chandeliers. :)

First dance photos are where my off-camera flash (gridded, cross-lighting) really shines.  Again, I don't want to light up the whole room, but I want the bride and groom to be lit well.  This gives me a clear line of sight from the flash to their faces, and again gives me the true color and skin tones on them that I strive for.  One other thing of note on this image - the hair light you see behind their heads was actually a continuous video light from the videographer.  So even with using flash, I can still make use of ambient light, especially uplighting or chandeliers. :)

Similar to the first dance photos, I love to cross-light or side-light the cake to really bring out the details and separate the cake from the background or the rest of the room.  This technique works great for cake toppers too that are often the same color as the rest of the decor.

Similar to the first dance photos, I love to cross-light or side-light the cake to really bring out the details and separate the cake from the background or the rest of the room.  This technique works great for cake toppers too that are often the same color as the rest of the decor.

This image was created with my off-brand continuous wand light (similar to the Ice Light).  It has a limited battery life, but is great for quick shots like this (in cold December!) when I am not able to get to my flash equipment or am limited on time.

This image was created with my off-brand continuous wand light (similar to the Ice Light).  It has a limited battery life, but is great for quick shots like this (in cold December!) when I am not able to get to my flash equipment or am limited on time.

Sunset photos are one of my favorite times to use my flash equipment.  It allows me to pull in the colors of the sky, but still be able to see my subjects.  And then with just a couple quick settings changes, you can also turn this into a glamourous silhouette.

Sunset photos are one of my favorite times to use my flash equipment.  It allows me to pull in the colors of the sky, but still be able to see my subjects.  And then with just a couple quick settings changes, you can also turn this into a glamourous silhouette.

Off-camera flash also allows you to do more "big sky" type photos because you can get further away from your clients, but your light will still reach them.  A few seconds in photoshop to remove the light and voila!

Off-camera flash also allows you to do more "big sky" type photos because you can get further away from your clients, but your light will still reach them.  A few seconds in photoshop to remove the light and voila!

The creative possibilities are endless with the  MagMod flash modifier system .  This setup took me about 30 seconds and I have this really great silhouette using one of the couple's wedding colors.

The creative possibilities are endless with the MagMod flash modifier system.  This setup took me about 30 seconds and I have this really great silhouette using one of the couple's wedding colors.

That about wraps it up!  I have some new lighting projects in the works for 2018, and am planning to continue to use my favorite techniques on my clients as well.  Stay tuned for those posts as the year goes on!

What projects are you planning for this year to stretch your photography skills?  
What lighting technique is most intriguing to you?

The above screenshots were used for commentary through the Fair Use Act.

MagMod creative lighting system + speedlight modifiers

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(This post contains affiliate links. You can read my FTC disclosure here.)

I've posted before about off-camera flash and how I use it, but today I'm talking about one specific aspect of my off-camera flash arsenal -- Magnet Mod!  They are the sturdiest, strongest, most powerful flash modifiers on the market.  Read through this post, and I think you'll soon agree with me!

I started using Magnet Mod products about a year ago, and I am in awe of the versatility they give me, how quick they are to set up/change, and how easy they are to use. I used them at nearly all my weddings in 2016 and am looking forward to playing with them more in 2017 and challenging myself to do more with them.

MagMod grids in action wedding First Dance
MagMod grids in action wedding First Dance

So, a little bit about how the MagMod system works: all the pieces are rubber or silicone and contain magnets to easily connect all the pieces and adapters.

First you start with the MagMod grip which is designed to stretch over the top of any speedlight.Then there are multiple accessories that all perform different functions.My most used adapters are the MagGrids, which can stack and narrow the beam that comes from your flash.The more you stack, the more narrow your beam of light becomes. 

MagMod creative gels at fall wedding reception
MagMod creative gels at fall wedding reception

Next, there is the MagSphere, which is a white silicone orb sort of that softens light, but kind of throws it in every direction as well, giving you much better coverage and even light than it does using the bare-bulb flash (or even the omni-bounces that are popular with speedlights).

MagMod creative gels at summer country club wedding
MagMod creative gels at summer country club wedding

The next thing I purchased was the creative gels because I love experimenting with colored light for portraits and weddings.I’ve always loved the way that uplighting looks in the background of photos at a wedding reception, and the gels help me to kind of create that look without actually being at a wedding, and for portraits on location.There is also a set of standard gels that helps you to correct the color of your flash, and a set of artistic gels with a few more colors outside of the normal color wheel.

MagMod grids stacked in use at wedding reception
MagMod grids stacked in use at wedding reception

There are quite a few pieces that I don’t yet own as well, and those are the MagBounce which is kind of like a tall, rounded clamshell/bowl shape that serves as a sort of bounce card, but again is softer and more versatile.These things are super sturdy and virtually indestructible.On occasion, I have seen photos of the MagGrips breaking, but MagMod is great about replacing them.I’ve also seen people that have thought they lost a grid or something, and then they find it the next day stuck to the side of their car!Haha!!

MagMod creative gels for relaxed senior session
MagMod creative gels for relaxed senior session
downtown night shoot with MagMod creative gels
downtown night shoot with MagMod creative gels

The other pieces that I’m interested in as well, but don’t yet own are the MagSnoot and the MagBeam (with complimenting gobos called MagMasks).One of the kits I purchased also came with rubber transmitter bands which are great for strapping your Pocket Wizards or other transmitters to your speedlights.I’ve been known to always use the PW straps hanging from my light stands or strapped on with a ball bungee cord, but the transmitter bands are safer and more reliable!

First time using MagMod creative gels purple
First time using MagMod creative gels purple

I hope this post has inspired you to give the MagMod systems a try!They are a bit of an investment, but after using them a few times, you’ll quickly realize that they are an indispensable part of your camera bag.Happy shopping & shooting!!