Second-Curtain Flash - Just Leave it Set There

Second-curtain flash is a technique where the flash fires at the end of a long exposure instead of the beginning. This puts the motion blur in the right location: behind the subject.


I discovered a PDF online from my DP Hacks book that provides a great tutorial for this technique. You can grab it by downloading Second-Curtain Flash for Cool Effects.

My personal advice. Find that setting on your camera, and just leave it there. I can't think of an instance when I would want the flash to fire at the beginning of the movement instead of at the end. And if you have more to add on this, please post a comment.

Photo by David Goldwasser.

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I may be misremembering, but I think one of the advantages of first-curtain flash is that the preflash for exposure is either the same as the initial flash of the exposure, or just before it. With a second curtain flash, I'd get a flash for exposure, then a second flash for the end of the actual exposure. Or something like that.

I agree that in almost every case, 2nd curtain flash is what you want. Randal is correct that when you're using TTL metering, the metering flash and primary flash are further apart in time. Sometimes this isn't a problem. Sometimes it is--especially if your subject is moving and not in the place where you want it when the metering flash goes off.

But, 95% of the time, 2nd curtain all the way. In the remaining cases, I'm almost always controlling flash power manually anyway.

Nikon refers to this as "rear curtain flash", I believe.

This is a nice tip! What does Canon call this? And does the 580 EXII support it? I couldn't find it in the manual - maybe I missed it.

Also Derrick, care to share more and more of the book - it's good good tips despite it's age!

Randal's right that the pre-flash is often more noticeable when using 2nd curtain flash, but the pre-flash is a separate event even when using 1st curtain flash. This is the source of a lot of blinking in flash pics (the subject involuntarily blinks at the pre-flash, quickly enough that the actual flash catches them with eyes full or partially closed).

Some cameras allow you to trigger the pre-flash manually, lock the exposure, then take the picture later. This eliminates a lot of blinking-at-the-flash problems. Setting 2nd curtain flash could have the same effect!

@Michael Ball: 2nd curtain or rear curtain is generally a function of the camera, not the flash. It refers to when the camera trips the flash. When using a TTL flash/camera combo that communicate through the hot-shoe, etc, they are smart enough to know to do the pre-flash before opening the shutter then fire the main flash just prior to shutting it.

I am a Nikon guy, so I cannot help you with the Canon stuff, but I am sure it will work.

Yes, as mentioned in this thread, second curtain or rear curtain flash is usually set up in the camera, not on the flash itself. Although, the flash has needs to be able to communicate with the camera for this to work. This isn't a problem when you use a flash made by the camera's manufacturer.

A good place to look for this setting is in the Custom Functions. And while you're in there, you'll probably discover some other cool stuff too :)

this looks (and sounds) cool ...
am gonna have to give this a try ...
just wanna say derrick ... nice podcasts ... keep it up ... and thank you ...

Thank, guys! I think I got it now.

Also - mental note to reread comments: That was supposed to read: "It's got good tips..."

2nd curtain or rear curtain is mainly a job of the shoot of camera not the flash. It gose to when the camera trips the flash so ..........

Hello there, cheers for this great article, a truly great opening to the new year, keep up the fantastic work, Rachel.