Is This Photography Trend Overrated? – Fstoppers

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The shutter drag/slow shutter trend has found its way into any niche in photography but particularly amongst wedding photography. But is the trend a clever use of camera techniques to add a different feeling or is it overrated?

This is one camera technique that I’ve seen popping up more and more recently, and I’ve noticed very mixed feelings about it. The slow shutter/shutter drag technique is where you use a slow shutter speed (usually while photographing people) to add a bit of motion blur and thus a sense of movement. I find using a shutter of 1/8-1/20th of a second or so is the ideal speed for achieving this look.

This hasn’t necessarily been a new technique, but it’s definitely one that has gained a lot of popularity, especially with the return of the film aesthetic. That said, we have seen it more with a rear curtain sync method, or used with flash where you have the subject exposed with strobe, and let the ambient light and the slow shutter create a blurred effect that still has the subject sharp.

Although the slow shutter trend does work with flash as well, a lot of shots simply use ambient light as the only source. Unlike the technique mixed with flash, where the subject is still sharp, the subject is generally blurrier here.

Now, with a gauge of what this trend is, perhaps you’ve already seen it, and chances are you’ll be seeing it more. A few years ago there was an emphasis on everything being overly sharp, we reached a level of clinical sharpness and detail that the industry has almost over corrected into the opposite. With the resurgence of film photography, the less technically perfect, more authentic feeling aesthetic has become more popular, which is where I speculate this came from.

It is worth noting I have experimented with this in the past to see what all the hype is about. I’ve also had my fair share of slow shutter shots mixed with flash, which of the two I definitely have more of an appreciation for. I think this technique can have a place in a photographer’s arsenal of creative techniques to bring out when the moment calls for it. The danger is in overusing it.

I’ve never been much of a wedding shooter, personally. Sure, I’ve shot a handful and have been a second-shooter even more so. If you are the type that second shoots weddings, or even the odd large weddings where there are three photographers, then perhaps there are moments where this method can be incorporated effectively. Almost as an extra spice. But you don’t add that extra spice if you don’t have those base ingredients. Ergo, get the main shots you need, get the primary shots and consider this one to be more of a secondary creative type shot to add variety if the “filmic vibe” is something the client is into. Because it’s not for everyone. Many people would simply say it’s blurry, why would you send me this? Which, honestly, is fair. But for those who enjoy the art of it, why not add it sparingly? The tricky thing is most of the shots are not going to be keepers. Because there has to be just the right amount of blur to make it work. Too much, and you can barely discern what’s happening. Too little, and the photo just appears out of focus, and the effect doesn’t really work.

I’ve seen this be more effective when it’s used with still and moving subjects or in a panning setting. An example is having your couple walk parallel to you and pan with them, almost like automotive photographers do, making them generally sharper and the background out of focus. The other option, and I’ve even used this in fashion shoots with multiple models, is having your main person/people static and having the extra surrounding people moving past the frame. Just make sure to tell your static subject to stand as still as possible for the effect to work best. In my opinion, both of these use cases are generally better than simply catching a couple walking or moving about with a general blur not in any particular direction. Again, it can be cool in the right setting, but be careful not to overuse it.

The issue with many popularized photography trends is that they become the forefront of mind for many photographers and they can forget about the fundamentals. Speaking when I was newer to photography, I am definitely guilty of this myself. So, through my past regrets with trying trends, do so carefully, and use it as a way to add a little extra beyond the main shots you already have. Consider it if you have time and everyone is down to experiment. I wouldn’t recommend making it a key aspect of your style as, in my experience, trends like this that come up and are really popular overnight don’t really last. We saw it with the heavy HDR, with the teal & orange, fairy lights, smoke bombs, milk baths, the list goes on and on and on. Now, while I enjoy this trend a little more than in the past, only time will tell if it will hold up or not.

Whether you’re into this trend or not, I do think it’s important to let other photographers experiment, as that’s the best way to learn. Experiment and take inspiration from what’s current, but don’t let it stray you from your path. You will find your distinct way of shooting if you go with what speaks to you more as opposed to trying to keep up with the latest photography trends. It will help you create your own voice as an artist and allow you to become a trusted leader in the field versus following the heard and constantly jumping to what’s next. Ultimately do what you’re called to, shoot with intention, with feeling, and you should be just fine, trend or no trend.

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