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“The Moving Tides” – Dragging the Shutter in Environmental Portraiture – How We Shot It

By Pye Jirsa on September 17th 2013

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Background and Vision

During our portrait session out in Southern California, I saw this little tide pool where the water rushing in and out. As soon as I saw the water flowing in and out, I immediately thought it would be a beautiful “shutter drag” image where we could essentially slow the shutter to illustrate time moving while our couple was still.

While it may sound kind of cheesy, the concept is that time seems to slow for those in love, while the world continues on around them. Since the sun had already set, I knew that the main challenge here would be in the lighting and exposure which we will discuss next.

Lighting the Scene

We had two major decisions when it came to lighting the scene, should we use strobes or constant lights? Strobes leave us more room to slow the shutter and still end up with tack-sharp subjects when compared to constant lights. However, controlling light spill from a strobe made it a poor option. I didn’t want light from the strobes falling over the water (which could cause ghosting), or the rocks around the couple. If I had time to setup the scene, then I could setup a complex strobing setup with flags, snoots and other GOBOs (Go Between Objects) to control the light spill, but this just wasn’t an option.

So, instead we turned to our Lowel GL-1 Power LED Light constant light. Unlike most constant lights, the Lowel GL-1 features the ability to not only control light intensity, but also the zoom and throw. Using the GL-1, I could accurately throw light over our subject without covering anything else in the scene. In addition, shooting with the tungsten white balance allowed me to drop the color temperature in camera to get much deeper blues out of the water and scene. The lighting diagram below shows the placement of the camera, subjects and light.

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Gear and Camera Settings

In addition to our lighting challenges, the next challenge to resolve was finding the perfect shutter speed to balance capturing the movement of the water, while still allowing our subjects to be still and sharp.

From experience, I knew that when shooting wide environmental portraits, it is possible to get sharp subjects using a 1/2″ to 1″ shutter speed if they draw a breath and hold perfectly still. To be safe, I also shoot 10-15 shots in a row and pick out the sharpest image with the least movement.

At a 1″ shutter speed, the water movement was too smooth, I wanted a little more exaggerated animation in the motion. So I dropped the shutter speed to 1/2″ and took the aperture down from f/7.1 to f/5.6 to compensate. I shot the image a little dark at 100 ISO to ensure that I had the maximum amount of dynamic range possible for post production.

Since I didn’t have a remote trigger, I had the camera on a Manfrotto Tripod and I simply used the two second timer build into the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. Below is all of the gear used for the shot:

Camera: Canon 5D Mark III 
Lens: Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Zoom Lens 
Light: Lowel GL-1 Power LED Light (3000K Color Temperature, 5:1 Focus Range)
Tripod :Manfrotto 055XPROB Pro Tripod Legs (Black) & Manfrotto 496RC2 Ball Head

Camera Settings
Shutter Speed: 0.5 Second
ISO: 100
Focal Length: 24mm

Post Production

Below you can see the original uncropped image as it was straight from the camera. It is a bit dark, but again we have retained every bit of detail from the shadows in the rocks to the highlights in the water on the horizon.

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While I could leave the image with the original crop, I cropped the image to a 2:1 crop since it worked very well with the composition as shown below:

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For post production, I used a dynamic range boost from the Lightroom Presets along with detail enhancing brush presets to reveal more detail and color in the water. We will show the full post production tutorial for this image soon, so stay tuned!

Below is the final image.

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Conclusion

Stay tuned for the post production side of this tutorial! For more information on SLR Lounge products such as the Lightroom Presets, please be sure to visit the SLR Lounge Store.

Terms: #Shutter Drag
About

Founding Partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography and SLR Lounge.

Follow my updates on Facebook and my latest work on Instagram both under username @pyejirsa.

4 Comments

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  1. Kurk Rouse

    Could you have pulled this off with a speed light and using rear curtain sync ?

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  2. Chris Kiely

    Absolutely brilliant photography! Gives such incentive to learn more. Thank you!

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  3. Christopher

    nice shot pye

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  4. Jo Gorsky

    Well executed !
    It’s always a challenge to do long exposure with “moving” subject, but thx to technology, people are aware of what motion blur is and the concept of shutter drag and the need to not move.

    Thx for sharing :)

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