Sometimes, for me, shooting at night was really pain in the ass because I must struggle a lot with autofocus (I'm autofocus guy and never use autofocus assist light to help). And when the light source was very dim, I must use very wide-open aperture and it makes the depth of focus really shallow and cannot capture detail in the background. When I see many Japanese street photographer creating some night street photos with such a detail on the face and also light trail on the back, I really amaze by that and want to create something like that too because it will become such an alternative style when I shooting at night. And what they do is using the 2nd curtain flash (or slow sync flash, or rear curtain flash, whatever).
Well, I will not explain about how 2nd curtain flash works in the camera (I’m not good at it), but for general description, we can capture moving car on the street with the light trails in behind by using 2nd curtain flash. But we will not do it for capturing the car, we will capturing people using this technique.. hahaha. So, let’s jump in to how we do that cool technique.
First, I recommend to use wide angle lens to do 2nd curtain flash. If you have zoom lens 16-50 mm, setup the lens to 16 mm focal length. If you have only prime lens, use the widest focal length that you had. I had a prime lens 23mm and 35mm, and 23mm works much better (I’m using Fuji by the way).
After that, don’t forget to turn on your flash and setup the flash sync mode into the 2nd curtain or rear sync. Every camera brand has their own naming and setup for this, so just RTFM.. hahaha. Oh yeah, if you plan to shoot at really dark night, try to set your flash into full power (for Fuji, you can setup TTL flash into +2), but if you shoot from evening until sunset, just setup your flash half power or lower (for Fuji, 0 or -1 is okay, but depending on the situation, if it’s getting darker than increase the flash power).
To use this technique, slow shutter speed is the key. We can use SS from 1/30 until 1/8, depending on the situation. Slower SS make some wild light trail effect on the back, especially when the place was quite dark. For the aperture, try to set up from f/8 until f/11. And for ISO, try to setup at 400-800. It’s really nice to shoot at night with low ISO because it will decrease the noise very much.
Now, the camera is ready. Then, how to shoot in 2nd curtain flash ? Try to following subject movement while clicking the shutter, just like panning. If your subject is not moving, try to create some movement with your camera by shake it from left to right. Explore more setting until you get the result that you really like. If you’re not mentally prepare to flashing people on the street, just try it with your friends or models before that. It’s not a sin, right ? I’m also not very good at this technique, so let’s learn it together !!
Happy shooting !!