Rear Curtain Sync with Canon 580EXII Speedlight

What Is Rear Curtain Sync?

Rear curtain sync is an artistic photographic technique which plays with the ideas of both light and motion in your work. Also known as second curtain sync, your flash will fire at the end of your shutter’s longer exposure time. This will produce a wonderful effect of motion and a blur behind a subject that appears statically captured in the image.

The flash has captured the movement of the lights whilst also freezing the rider in a single exposure

The flash has captured the movement of the lights whilst also freezing the rider in a single exposure

What Is the Difference Between Front & Rear Curtain Sync?

While both techniques are often lumped together, there is a distinct difference between a front and a rear curtain sync that you should be aware of for your own work.

To better understand how each of these flash syncing techniques work, it’s important to recognise how they interact with the rest of your camera setup. Your shutter has two specific curtains that open and allow the camera sensor to be exposed to light. These curtains are the front at the beginning of the exposure and the rear at the end.

The time between these curtain openings is what determines your shutter speed. And as you likely already know, altering this setting can create some dramatically different photographic results depending on your subject, environment, and overall setup.

Both front and rear curtain sync play an important role with lower shutter speeds because of the effect of motion you’re ultimately trying to capture. Slower shutter speeds give you an actual time interval between the openings of both the front and the rear curtain. And this timeframe will allow you to specify precisely when you want your flash to fire.

When you’re deciding whether you want to use front or rear curtain sync, the timing will directly impact the results:

  • A front curtain sync will fire the flash at the very beginning of your shutter exposure. This means that for a subject in motion with a static camera, the shutter opens, the flash immediately fires, the subject moves, and the shutter closes. This will produce the effect of a blur moving forward or outward from your subject.
  • A rear curtain sync fires off the flash at the very end of the shutter exposure. This means that your shutter opens, your moving subject is captured with a static camera placement, and the flash fires off just as the shutter closes. Because of the flash occurring at the end of the exposure, you’ll still produce a blurring effect similar to front curtain sync. The difference will be in its placement with the blurring behind your subject.

Why Choose Rear Curtain Sync?

As you can tell by the difference between front and rear sync, using the latter can produce more natural looking results. In most cases, you’ll want to have a motion blur behind your subject. After all, that’s the way movement is perceived, and it seems much more natural to have a blur after your subject passes through the frame.

Beyond the physics of your images, however, many photographers use this technique as a case study for how to creatively capture motion in their shots. You can have a lot of fun getting creative while experimenting with a rear curtain sync setup. From adjusting the precise timings to controlling the shutter speed, you’ll be amazed at all the artistically unique images you can discover during even just one session.

Getting Started on Your Own Rear Curtain Sync Project

If you’re interested in trying this technique out for yourself, there are a few bits of advice that can help make the process much easier for you. Follow along below to get yourself ready to enjoy this technique even faster.

  • Project Idea

Motion blurring through rear curtain sync flash is all about movement. It’s a wonderful way to creatively and distinctively capture motion unlike any other technique. Accordingly, you’ll want to think movement throughout your project planning – at all times!

Coming up with how you want your movement to be captured is entirely up to your own creative ideas, preferences, and expression choices. If you’re looking for a little inspiration, simply do a Google search with the keyword ‘rear curtain sync’ to see all sorts of wild and wonderful examples. You can then use these examples to help you better understand how to turn your ideas into reality.

  • Location

Much like your project itself, the location will be up to you and based on your ideas and preferences. You’ll typically get better end results if you shoot a lighter subject on a darker background. This will help the sensor to better pick up the distinction of motion between subject and backdrop – and potentially enhance the sharpness of your subject for the flash.

Remember, it’s all about experimenting at this point, so there is no wrong way to go. Get a few shots under your belt to see how it works. You’ll be able to find your own style after only a couple of tries.

Camera & Speedlight Flash Setup

  • Flash:  In this example we have used a Canon 580EXII flash. Verify that your camera flash has this mode available. While you still may be able to achieve this photographic goal with other flash setups, your results will likely vary.
  • Lens: Your goal is to capture a subject’s movement across a frame of motion. Hence, a wider angle lens is recommended to have a larger frame. 16mm to 55mm lenses will usually provide you with enough space to capture your subject. If you want your subject to move further across a frame, then you should use a wider angle lens.
  • Tripod: Your goal with this technique is to produce movement based on your subject and not the camera itself. A tripod can help to stabilise your setup and prevent undesired blurring in other areas of your shots. This holds especially true because of the longer exposure times you’ll have with this photographic technique.
  • Shutter Release: A shutter release option may be extremely useful if you’re working alone or would like to step away from the camera during the shooting. Even if you don’t have one, however, you can use your camera’s self-timer to achieve a similar benefit.
  • Batteries: Make sure that your batteries are fully charged before you head out the door. You should also take along as many spare batteries as you can to avoid the flash running out of battery power. This flash technique will quickly eat up your flash power. And if you’re planning to shoot for a while, you should definitely invest in extra batteries or a battery pack for your flash unit.

Getting Your Canon 580EXII Ready to Shoot


rear curtain sync settings






















Get Out There & Have Fun

Now that you have the knowledge and setup information, get out there and get some wonderful imagery. You’ll absolutely love just how many types of pictures you can yield from this technique.

Take some time to play around with the rear curtain sync. You can even incorporate a front curtain sync into your work to understand the interplay and the differences of each technique. In the end, remember to have fun and enjoy another component to your photographic catalogue of skills and techniques.