Slow Speed Sync Photography – A Complete Guide

camera, lensWhen using camera flash in low-light or other challenging lighting conditions you will require a proper exposure. Most of the times when you don’t get sufficient light, you would lower the shutter speed. However, at a specific point, you encounter camera shake and the motion blur ruins the photo. In such a case, you are compelled to use the standard flash.

There exists a third alternative and that is slow speed sync flash. It is a powerful technique that enhances flash photography. Though it sounds technical, it is really simple to use and can prove to be quite beneficial in certain situations. In this guide, we discuss what slow speed sync is, how to use it and when it is helpful.

What is Slow Speed Sync Flash?
Slow speed sync is a feature commonly available on a variety of digital cameras which enable you to fire flash at lower shutter speeds. Slow speed sync flash enables you to shoot in a number of low-light conditions to open up new possibilities for you. Using slow speed sync, you get a nicely illuminated subject or foreground while getting low ambient light in the frame.

Many digital cameras allow setting slow speed sync manually. Compact cameras also have a slow speed sync mode but known by names like ‘Night Mode’ or ‘Party Mode’. By firing the flash, you can freeze the motion to collect light trails in the remaining time, resulting in a cool effect.

How Slow Speed Sync Works?
Slow speed sync flash allows selecting the synchronization of shutter speed and the duration of flash. When using slow speed sync, the shutter remains open for a much longer time to allow more light for the exposure. The flash fires at a particular moment during the exposure and the duration is quite shorter than the shutter speed in normal flash mode.

Flash photography generally freezes the image and the extended shutter speed blurs out the background but the image is quite illuminated and very sharp because of the flash. It is possible to use smaller apertures to ensure higher sharpness in the final image.

When to Use Slow Speed Sync Flash?
Whenever you feel that normal flash will not give you the desired image, you can use slow speed sync flash. Due to lower shutter speeds with slow speed sync flash, you will need to stabilize the camera to avoid shake. It is advisable to use a monopod or tripod with slow speed sync flash and you can even consider using a cable release to prevent camera shake to the optimum.

Low Light
Consider a situation where you want to take a photo of some friends standing in front of a scenery at night. In this case, you can either use the flash to illuminate your friends and get black background or use slow shutter speed to capture the background but get blurry friends. Either way is not ideal. This is where slow speed sync flash comes into picture and gives you the best of both the worlds. You can use slow shutter speed to expose the background and use a flash to capture the friends in accurate detail.

Fast Motion
Another common application of slow speed sync flash is sports and action photos. It not only helps you shoot in optimum detail but also enables getting motion blur to achieve a sense of speed. This is quite pleasant than the static effect achieved with a normal flash.
As the subject is moving, the setting of flash curtain makes a difference. The best option is Rear curtain because it freezes the subject towards the end of the motion with a blur behind. This gives a photo a natural sense of movement.

On the other hand, front curtain freezes the subject at the beginning with a blur in the front. This can look somewhat unnatural but interesting. Here, you will be able to use faster shutter speed than with low light photography so you need not use a tripod. You can always play around with exposure lengths to see the effects on the amount of motion blur you get.

What is Rear and Front Curtain Sync?
As you set the camera for slow speed sync flash, you are presented with two options – rear and front curtain sync. This choice lets you tell the camera when you want the flash. This can either be the front curtain moving at the start of the exposure or the rear curtain moving at the end of the exposure.

These modes give different final results. Front curtain sync tends to light up the subject and get ambient light while rear curtain sync gives a faint image trail. You can play around with the options to determine the properties of each curtain sync mode. This will also give you higher proficiency at using the tools available to you.

Slow speed sync flash provides a lot of creative options when you shoot indoors or at night and it is an excellent way to avoid uninspired images which are likely to occur when using standard flash. Slow speed sync flash enhances the possibilities with flash photography by allowing you to capture motion that generally misses using a traditional flash. Slow speed sync photography also lets you achieve an illuminated background without having to compromise on the depth of field.

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