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    Hello, and welcome to my website! I'm Derek Gale, photography trainer and Fine Art photographer.

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This means curtains for Flash ‘Arry!

I was giving my “Movement in Photography” talk at a photo club recently and, whilst talking about use of flash and long shutter speeds, I was asked if I used first or second curtain flash synchronisation.  So what does this mean, how does it work, and what are the effects you get?

Flash synchronisation is to do with the timing of the flash while the shutter is open. First (or front) curtain synchronisation means that just as the shutter opens for the exposure the flash fires.  The shutter stays open for the ambient light exposure and then closes.   Second (or rear) curtain synchronisation means that the shutter opens for the ambient light exposure and then just before it closes the flash fires.

The type of flash synchronisation is a choice you can make when you want to use a long shutter speed to balance an ambient light exposure with a flash exposure AND your subject is moving, or you are moving the camera.  There’s no effect if your subject isn’t moving (and if you keep the camera still), but there may be an unwanted effect if you are taking portraits.  I’ll come on to that later.

The default setting for most cameras is first curtain synchronisation, and most of the time you can just leave it there.

So, what changes if you change your flash setting from front curtain to rear curtain?  In both of the images below my hand was moving diagonally upwards from the bottom left of the frame towards the top right.


This image was taken with the default, front curtain, setting.  The flash fired at the start of the ambient exposure, so there is a sharp flash-lit image of my hand overlaid with a blurry ambient-lit image going off to the right.  The light trail from the head torch goes up to the right too.


This image was taken with the second curtain setting.  The flash fired at the end of the ambient exposure, so there is an ambient-lit blurry image of my hand overlaid with a sharp flash-lit image further to the right.  The light trail from the head torch appears to go down to the left.

The main effect is that the apparent direction of movement for the first curtain flash is in the opposite direction to the actual direction of movement.  We intuitively want the light trail to follow rather than lead.  If you are photographing a moving car at night, and you want the rear light trails to appear after the sharp flash-lit car, then use second curtain to make them appear behind the car.

So if it gives a better impression of movement why wouldn’t you set your camera to use second curtain flash all the time?  Well, if you are taking portraits, even using the normal flash shutter speed of 1/125th of a second or thereabouts, it can cause problems.  Most modern cameras use TTL flash metering.  They fire a metering pre-flash just before the shutter opens and then measure the light coming back from the subject.  It all happens in the blink of an eye, and that’s the problem.  The pre-flash can make people blink, and if you have the flash set to second curtain you can pick up that blink, so your subject’s eyes are closed.  Sticking with first curtain can avoid this, as the pre-flash and exposure flash are so close together.

The “curtain” name came from a time when camera shutters had fabric in them, which looked a bit like curtains, and it’s sort of stuck, even though shutters don’t use fabric these days.

Don’t worry about the name, just have fun changing the settings and seeing what they do.

A close-up compact in the garden.

Yesterday (8th June), it was very sunny here in Watchfield.  Whilst that isn’t always the best sort of weather for photography, what with the hard shadows and all, it is good weather for using compact cameras.  Compact cameras, with small image sensors, need lots of light to give the best image quality.  My Lumix TZ-70 is a very sophisticated compact camera, but it still has a small sensor.


One trick that many compact cameras have is that they focus the closest when the zoom lens is set at its widest angle.  You can use this to take close-up (Macro) wide-angle images that would be harder to take with larger sensor cameras.  With this image of osteospermums I’ve set the camera to Macro focussing and focused on the foreground flower (with bonus cricket!).  The other flowers are going nicely out of focus.


Here I’ve got as close as I can to this seedhead inside a large poppy flower.  The front of the lens was almost touching the seedhead, but not shading it from the sunlight, so lots of light still got into the flower.


This last image is of a cosmos flower and it’s become almost an abstract pattern picture, with rich colour saturation.  The structure of the flower centre is well rendered with lots of detail.

These images show that you don’t need an expensive camera to get good images in a garden.  Just use the Macro setting on your compact camera and get out there on a sunny day.

A post of note…

My recent Oxfordshire Artweeks show was at The Piano Gallery* in Faringdon.  I learnt a lot about pianos whilst I was there, and they are interesting things to photograph too.


Grand pianos have nice open tops so you can see the arrangement of the strings.  The engineering is amazing, and there are lots of patterns.  For this image I used a fisheye lens to exaggerate the perspective.


Getting a little closer, I used a lens with a perspective more like our eyes to show the curve of the bridge and the lines of the strings.


Finally I used a wide lens aperture to make the string patterns more abstract.  I got really close to the strings and focused on the layer of strings below the low note strings, in order to show points of focus through an out-of-focus foreground.

I’ve managed to indicate the key points without making a piano-based pun.  Ooops!

* Although my Artweeks show is over, you can still see my Fine Art images at The Piano Gallery, so why not pop in?

Come and see me at Oxfordshire Artweeks.

Just a quick blog post today, as I am getting my artworks ready for Oxfordshire Artweeks.

Oxfordshire Artweeks is a huge county-wide art festival, and runs in South Oxfordshire from 14th May to the 21st May.  There are hundreds of artists for you to visit.  Naturally, I would love you to come and see my show at The Piano Gallery in Faringdon.  It’s Venue 292 in the Artweeks catalogue and website.

"Vaucluse #2" HD metal print. £335. An edition of 10I’ll be there as many days as I can during the week, so why not pop along and have a chat? The Piano Gallery isn’t open on Sundays so bear that in mind before you travel.

There’s a group of artists exhibiting in the Faringdon area, including photography (not just me!), sculpture, painting, ceramics, and textiles, so why not make a day of it?

The image is one of my Artweeks works.  It’s called “Vaucluse #2” and is a 26-inch high-definition print on solid aluminium.  It’s in a Limited Edition of just 10 priced at £350.