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Shutter Drag | Overcoming The Dreaded DJ Lights


Staff member
Mar 19, 2024
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Lately, I have been seeing or hearing other photographers talking about how the DJ’s lights can really ruin a shot at the reception. For a while I was feeling the same way. As wedding photographers we often find ourselves in situations that are not ideal and we must make the best of them. I took a step back and thought about what I could do to make the best of those, sometimes annoying, DJ lights. My solution?… Shutter Drag! This technique ends up giving a really cool vibe that our Brides have been loving. We give them a handful of these shots to really showcase the party that’s going on around us! I figured I would put together a little “how to” for all you photographers out there.

Shutter Drag How To​

As with any situation with photography its very difficult to give you the “go to” settings to get the perfect shutter drag image. However, I can give you some good starting points. Make sure the DJ lights are behind your subject for the best results. The first step is to get your settings set for correct exposure. I normally want to stay between F2.8-F4.5 when I’m shooting the dancing part of the reception so I have to adjust my shutter speed and ISO accordingly. When I’m using on camera flash, like with the image below, I have found that a good starting point for correct exposure is ISO 640, F2.8, Shutter 1/80. So knowing that these settings give me correct exposure all I do is lower my shutter speed to 1/20 sec. Slowing down the shutter speed that drastically can sometimes increase the ambient light a little to much so you can darken the image a bit by lowering your ISO or jumping from F2.8 to F3.2. Now the lights aren’t moving in this image so to achieve the movement I do the following: I use selective focusing and focus on my subject with a half press of my shutter button. Once the subject is in focus I quickly press the shutter to capture the image while simultaneously rotating my entire camera 90 degrees. This requires a little practice to get the timing right but when you land your first image you will be super excited! The subjects stay in focus because the flash freezes them. This allows me to have my shutter be much slower than normal.

Shutter Drag
Shutter 1/20 F2.8 ISO 640 (flash on camera) 14mm lens flash was set to TTL BL (NikonSB910)

Here is another way to create motion. Using a zoomable lens (I used a Nikon 24-70mm 2.8) Instead of rotating the camera 90 degrees while taking the image, Zoom the lens. Start at 24mm and zoom to 70mm (Or Vise Versa) at the same time you take the image. Again, this takes a bit of practice to get the timing right. For this reception the room was extremely bright so I had to darken the room by dropping my ISO to 250 and then rely on my OCF (Off Camera Flash) to illuminate my subject. We used 2 flashes, bare bulb set to 1/16 power set up on opposite corners of the dance floor for the image below. The purple and pink and blue hues are coming from the uplighting. I used to hate Up Lighting in venues as well but they look amazing in shutter drag images!

Shutter Drag
Shutter 1/25 F3.5 ISO 250 2 Off Camera Flashes set to 1/16 power.

This is an example of dragging the shutter without adding motion. It was shot with the exact same settings as the above image.

Shutter Drag

You never quite know what will happen when you drag the shutter and add motion. The image below was shot with the same settings as the 2 images above it but I started wide and zoomed in. The pink and blue hues are from the uplighting.
Reception 321
The image below had no motion added but it was shot at .5 sec shutter speed.
Shutter Drag
Shutter .5 sec F2.8 ISO 100 On camera flash set to TTL BL


Shutter .4 sec F2.8 ISO 100 On Camera Flash set to TTL BL

Hope this helps you all! Feel free to ask questions.


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