Get in a spin with slow-sync flash

Portraits are traditionally static, with people sitting or standing, and that’s exactly why we should inject them with movement and a sense of fun. A combination of sun, flash and a roundabout are the perfect recipe for unique portraits where movement is just as important as the person being photographed. The technique used here is called slow-sync flash, which is where you combine a slow shutter speed with flash. The result is a dynamic blurred background with a sharp and well-lit subject in the foreground. The great thing about using flash is that you can take perfectly exposed shots with the sun behind the subject, like our example shot.

How to shoot it

This is a really easy technique to shoot. But you’ll need a model who’s fairly athletic, because they’ll be spinning the roundabout and lifting their feet off the ground. It might be great fun for kids to try.

Once you’ve found someone with a head for spinning, it’s time to start shooting. Motion blur in the background is one of the main characteristics of the image, so set the camera to shutter-priority mode. Select a shutter speed of around 1/15sec. Don’t worry about aperture because the camera will set this automatically.

When shooting on a bright day, and quite often overcast days too, you’ll need to set ISO to 100. Now all you need to do is activate the pop-up flash in TTL mode and you’re ready toshoot. Even though the subject will be moving you can use single shot AF. Wait until the model takes their feet off the ground and quickly focus while they’re still in mid-air. You’ll need to take quite a few shots for the best result, so don’t worry if the first attempt doesn’t look quite right.

Use a wide-angle lens to capture more of the model. Fisheye lenses and ultra wide-angle lenses are perfect, but the wide end of a kit lens will work well too if this is all you have.

Use a wide-angle lens to capture more of the model. Fisheye lenses and ultra wide-angle lenses are perfect, but the wide end of a kit lens will work well too if this is all you have.

Put a spin on the selfie

If you’d prefer to shoot an even more dynamic image, try a self-portrait. Roundabouts are great for slow-sync selfies because you can easily make them spin yourself. Then you take a seat in the centre holding the camera with both hands in front of you. The technique is hit-or-miss because you can’t see what you’re shooting. But if you have a multi-angle LCD you can use Live View to compose your shots.

This article was first published in the September 2014 issue of Practical Photography - download back issues here.