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Shooting Tips

How to Create Rad Reception Images: Drag Your Shutter & Light Up Their Party

By Amii & Andy Kauth on February 5th 2016

We love to add to the story of our clients’ wedding day by recreating the party atmosphere of their reception with our images, i.e. we try to light up their party (and not just with our winning personalities, ha!). To accomplish our “reception image style,” we’re all about dragging the shutter. And even though the technique is fairly simple, we up the ante a bit by using rear curtain sync (+ off camera flash) and actually get out on the dance floor & get moving ourselves!


If you’ve checked out Lighting 101, then you already know about the basic concept of “shutter drags” (i.e. creating motion). When we execute this technique at receptions, what we’re doing is slowing down the shutter speed in order to blur (or trail) the DJ’s lights. And note: there are plenty of options for light sources if your DJ doesn’t bring the funk with some dope lighting (ceiling lights, strings of lights, etc.). Heck. We’ll even use the limo’s lights if that’s where the party takes us!


(Trailing the DJ’s Lights: Nikon D750, 24mm f/1.4, ISO 800, f/11, 1/3 sec)


(Trailing the Ceiling Lights: Nikon D750, 50mm f/1.8, ISO 200, f/9, 1/20 sec)


(Trailing the Limo’s Lights: Nikon D750, 24mm f/1.4, ISO 125, f/11, 0.4 sec + PARTYAID)

How To DO This Technique

You’re gonna want to start with a shutter speed of anywhere between 1/15 of a second to 3 seconds (somewhere around 1/5 of a second is almost always perfect) and quickly move your camera as you click the shutter (the slower the shutter speed, the longer the light trails). The key is to move your camera as fast as possible and in different ways so you can own the light trails and make them go wherever you want! Btw, we use prime lenses (our favorites for the reception are our Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED Lens and our Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G Lens), but if you rock zoom lenses, you can create some additional, amazing effects by taking your zoom from the longest focal length to the shortest focal length very quickly as you click your shutter.


(Nikon D750, 24mm f/1.4, ISO 100, f/5, 1/5 sec)


(Nikon D750, 24mm f/1.4, ISO 125, f/5.6, 1/13 sec)


(Nikon D750, 24mm f/1.4, ISO 800, f/11, 0.8 sec)

Off-Camera Lighting

In our experience, off-camera flash is always best, and we always rock a lighting assistant, who carries an Impact QuickStik+ with a Nikon SB910 Speedlight and a Westcott Rapid Box – 26″ Octa Softbox to soften the light. If you slow your shutter speed down, you’ll definitely be able to show the party atmosphere with awesome light trails, but how do you keep your subjects from blurring? That’s where flash comes into play. You can certainly use on-camera flash, but we prefer to get our flash off-camera to create images that have beautiful, directional light.

Rear Curtain Sync

The real key to lighting your subjects while dragging your shutter speed is to use rear curtain sync. Rear curtain sync, in the simplest of descriptions, means the flash goes off at the end of the shutter duration, creating light trails like in the image below.


rearsyncarticle@4000CourtneyRJDec122015Wedding-744202(Nikon D750, 24mm f/1.4, ISO 100, f/5, 1/5 sec)
rearsyncarticle@4000420001017-HC1_235201(Nikon D750, 24mm f/1.4, ISO 800, f/10, 1/13 sec)

rearsyncarticle@40002DaniTyler09252015Wedding200301(Nikon D750, 50mm f/1.8, ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/10 sec)

Okay, Let’s Do This!

Here’s our “user-friendly, pick up your camera and try this” method (we use Nikon D750s): remove your flash or trigger (we use PocketWizard PlusX Transceivers) from the hot shoe. Next, press the “flash button” on the side of the camera (the first time you press it, the built-in flash will pop up/the second time you press it a flash mode/compensation screen will appear), and rotate your back dial until the flash mode says “rear.” Then, put your flash or trigger back onto the hot shoe, and you’re ready to go! Remember that aperture controls flash, so if you have your flash set to 1/1 (full power) and it seems just slightly too bright, for example, you might try bumping up your aperture a step or two before reducing your flash’s power. And as far as ISO, anywhere from 100-800 usually works well for these types of shots, but you can definitely experiment depending on how light you’d like the environment (and depending upon your flash’s settings).

rearsyncarticle@4000CourtneyRJDec122015Wedding-750904(Nikon D750, 24mm f/1.4, ISO 100, f/5, 1/5 sec)

Conclusion: Getting Out on the Dance Floor

Here’s the deal: if you wanna do this and make some super legit images, you’re gonna have to get down! For most of the reception, you’ll find us on the dance floor, literally on our knees and shooting upwards. From this position, we’re able to get the lights to trail in a ton of rad ways. And since we’re kinda nuts, we’ll definitely be feeling the vibe of the music so that we’re flipping our wrists with the beat.

Here’s an additional tip: since you won’t be looking through your viewfinder when you’re executing this technique, you’ll need to decide about how far away you want to be from your subjects (since we get “right up in there” during the party, it’s usually anywhere from 2-5’). Make sure your camera is focused for the length you choose (we’ve found it best to keep the aperture somewhere between f/4 and f/8 so that you’ll have some play with the distance while still being able to nail focused images). And be sure to continually look at your playback screen as you snap and make adjustments to your flash, shutter speed, body position, focus, etc. (as needed).

You’ll definitely need to release control when shooting a reception this way, but once you become comfortable with this technique, we’re solid on the fact that you won’t go back to making boring reception images! So, give it a go! Post your images in our growing Facebook Community group and let us know how you make your reception photos come alive in the comments below!

(And here’s some additional shutter drag inspiration if you just can’t enough: “Magical Wintry Street Portraits” & “Wedding Reception Shutter Drag”!)

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Amii & Andy are a wife and husband team of rad portrait and wedding photographers (Sunshine & Reign Photography) who absolutely love life and are generally just stoked! Yeah! When they aren’t photographing or writing and teaching about photography, you’ll find them off on a seriously legit adventure with their little ones, lifting weights in their garage, training jiu-jitsu, refining their archery skills, or surfing every chance they get. And on the rare chance they escape off on a “date night”? Yep! They’ll find a wedding to crash (true fact).

Website: Sunshine & Reign Photography
Instagram: @sunshineandreign

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Rohan Mishra

    I would definitely try this out, Thanks a lot!

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    • Andy & Amii Kauth

      Very cool, Rohan! Thanks for checking out the article as well. When you give it a try, post some over in the SLR FB community group! :)

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  2. J D

    Awesome. I have seen this done before and always meant to look up how to do it but never got around to it. I didn’t realize it was so easy so now I am certainly going to give it a go.

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  3. Mark Romine

    Looks fun but you certainly don’t need to spend the big bucks on the 24mm f1.4, get the much lighter much less expensive and faster focusing f1.8 by Nikon. Your wallet and wrist will smile at you.

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    • Andy & Amii Kauth

      Certainly a valid point, Mark! We got our 24 (1.4) originally because we had some weddings upcoming that we felt it would give us the results we needed (A-frame in the woods with no electricity, yacht w/ highly reflective surfaces, e.g.). Yeah. We could have gone with some less expensive options, but we’re Nikon faithful (and kinda nuts) and already had a 1.8! :)

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  4. Richard Bremer

    Cool technique! Definitly going to give it a try :) Thx for sharing. One thing though, you don’t always have to take the trigger off of the camera for setting rear sync. If the trigger is on there, and you press and hold the flash button, you can immediatly set the way you want to flash (e.g. rear) on your Nikon. I just tested this on my old D7000 and my current D750.

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    • Andy & Amii Kauth

      Thanks, Richard! Thanks for that tip too … We just double checked … :) What kind of trigger do you use? We should have been a bit more specific in the article: we use the PocketWizard PlusX, which juts out just enough such that the built in flash doesn’t pop up all the way.

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  5. Nghia Ngo

    Hey! I often use this techique for shooting nightclub ;).

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    • Andy & Amii Kauth

      Thanks for checking out the article … and, for sure, this technique would be great in a club. Party on!

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  6. Michael Shea

    Great article and photos BUT…can you explain to us lowly Canon users (jokingly) this part, “Here’s our “user-friendly, pick up your camera and try this” method: remove your flash or trigger (we use PocketWizard PlusX Transceivers) from the hot shoe. Next, press the “flash button” on the side of the camera (the first time you press it, the built-in flash will pop up/the second time you press it a flash mode/compensation screen will appear), and rotate your back dial until the flash mode says “rear.” Then, put your flash or trigger back onto the hot shoe, and you’re ready to go!” This method does not work for my 5D Mark II or my 70D. From what I understand Canon uses the Rear Curtain from the Flash not the camera AND your Flash must have the Rear Curtain function. Is that right? Thanks!

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    • Andy & Amii Kauth

      Hoping some of our friendly neighborhood Canon users can chime in here, Michael. We’ll work on getting you an answer as well!

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    • Andy & Amii Kauth

      From what we can tell (and we aren’t Canon proficient): you are correct that it is from the flash with the 5D, but you should be able to change the “Shutter Sync” option to “2nd Curtain sync” on your 70D causing the flash to fire twice (when you hit the button and again at the end of the exposure)?

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    • Michael Shea

      Ha! I got it! I have a YN568EXII flash that has Rear Curtain Sync. I set it in the flash and with a little fiddling with the camera settings I’m golden! I have a wedding tomorrow and I’m going to give it a go! I don’t have my assistant tomorrow so I will have to hand hold my flash to the side. I’m also going to grid my flash for greater accuracy :) Thanks for the tips!

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    • Andy & Amii Kauth

      Awesome, bro! We look forward to seeing what you come up with! Have fun!

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    • Bud Johnson

      Hey guys!
      Michael – what flash/trigger system do you use? It’s admittedly a little bumpy with canon, but once you get the hang of it, it’s fairly straight forward.
      If you use pocket wizards, here’s a quick resource for rear-curtain syncing!

      For me, I use on-camera yongnuos (YN500EX’s specifically) and I just drop the flash on the camera, go to Menu -> External Speedlite control -> Flash Function Settings -> scroll to the sync options and select second-curtain synchronization. Unfortunately I can’t post a photo in the response here, but I hope this helps!

      Shutter dragging at receptions are an easy way to get some kick-butt images, as Andy showed above!

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    • Andy & Amii Kauth

      Thanks, Bud! You rock!

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  7. Kyle Stauffer

    Awesome samples! I’d like to say thank you for sharing so much through these articles as well as being proactive in sharing information in the comments over these last weeks! Much appreciated!

    And all this time seeing these types of images…. Thinking they were composites. Can’t wait to try this!

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    • Andy & Amii Kauth

      We so appreciate your kind words, Kyle! We wouldn’t be able to be here w/o your participation so thank you!!! And we’re stoked to see what you come up with … it’s amazing what you can accomplish “in camera.” Have fun!

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  8. Michael Henson

    Good stuff! Love this technique.

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