The Creative use of Shutter Speed, Aperture and Flash to create a Dynamic Portrait

Have you ever seen a picture that just made you stop and think, “Wow, that’s awesome, how did they do it”?  The best Photographers search for creative ways to standout from everyone else.  Unless you are a well-established wedding photographer or a famous Hollywood elite portrait master rolling in  the dough you don’t have extra cash to shell out for the latest gizmos and gadgets….  You just get creative with the tools that your camera and flash offer you!

There are a couple of key points to understand about photography.  Every time you take a picture, these three factors combine and work together to capture your image onto your camera sensor or Film (If you are born 2005 and onward…  just ask your parents what film is).  Your Camera has a Lens that closes and opens to determine what is in focus and how much light from you flash hits the subject.  Think of the pupil in your eye… it opens and narrows based on the lighting conditions (you squint when you look into the sun).  The second part of your camera is the Shutter.  Think of it as a door that opens for a period of time, it lets you enter and then closes.  The longer the door is open, the more light that comes into the Sensor.  Shutter Speed controls movement and how much light from the background area of your subject.  If the door closes slowly then anything not stationary will show some movement blur.  On the other hand, a fast door closing can limit motion blur and it also lets less background light in.  The final part of the Triangle is ISO (Sensitivity of the Sensor).  The term comes from the film days – depending on the conditions that you were shooting in (well-lit area or a dimly lit area or landscape / still photography vs action / moving objects).  Years ago, anything higher than 800 ISO was grainy and not useful.  With today’s new high-tech digital cameras, I commonly photograph wedding ceremonies and receptions at 3200 ISO and still maintain quality.


During my down time, when I am not Photographing a wedding or taking family portraits; I like to practice and try things that I don’t do on a regular basis.  Photography is an art that must be practiced and a skill that must be fostered and maintained.


My latest project:  Making the background behind my subject black!  (in a completely well-lit room without a backdrop)



I shot this series of photos using my Nikon D800e and an external flash in a brightly lit room!  To do this you need to put your camera into manual mode.  Set your ISO to 100.  My camera is a professional full frame camera that can do High Speed Sync (HSS) (another topic for another post).  If your camera can not do high-speed sync then you will need to set your aperture to f/16 or further closed (it’s a way to try to cheat when you can’t achieve a shutter speed faster the 1/250 of a sec).


Background / Starting point.  Camera settings were:  1/80 sec at f2.5  with ISO 100

photography basics


The “Trick” to doing this is to use a high shutter speed (which lets less light in from the background).  Increase your shutter speed without a flash until you can’t see anything – the camera takes a black picture.

Also, your subject should have empty space behind them, at least 10ft from a wall.  You want to get the light source a close to your subject without having it in your camera’s viewfinder.  Light strength / power exponentially decreases as it travels.  We photographers use the term “falling off” when describing the behavior of light.


I sped up the shutter speed to black out the background completely black with the flash off.  Camera Setting was 1/3200 sec at f2.8 with ISO 100


I then turned on the flash which was on his right side about 2 feet from him.  I had too much light hitting on the right hand side of the subject and the light wasn’t falling off quickly enough (Background not completely black) it was too bright for my liking.  Camera was set to 1/4000 sec f2.8 with ISO 100

too much flash


I then closed down my Aperture to limit the amount of light hitting the subject and to control the fall off of light behind the subject.


Here is the Final Image…..  I shot this at 1/4000 sec with an Aperture closed down a little more at f5.0 with ISO remaining 100


I hope you found this informative and I encourage you to try this at home when you are bored!  If you want to learn more – Glyn Dewis has an excellent video explain this “Photography Technique: The Invisible Black Background”


Take every picture with a thought and a purpose, you can only capture a passing moment once; so nail it!



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Fun Loving Artistic Wedding, Senior & Family Portrait Photographer with an eye for detail 

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