I’m guessing the title of this post might have caught your attention. What, after all, is shake and bake bird photography? Shooting commercial assignments we were often asked to create motion, energy and dynamic workplace imagery. One very effective method involved using a slow shutter speed combined with flash. If I am photographing a man walking quickly through an office and I shoot at 1/8 of a second combined with a flash, an interesting effect occurs. The flash, with a very fast duration (speedlights can get to 1/30,000 of a second) will freeze the moving person, but the ambient light will also render in the long exposure. And at 1/8 of a second the moving person is blurry. So you get a combination of a tack sharp (the flash part) and slightly blurry (the 1/8 ambient light part). This is called dragging the shutter, or also know as ‘shake and bake’ photography.
But dragging the shutter isn’t just for commercial shoots. Participants in our online speed light class created some stunning dragging the shutter images. And this technique also works for nature and wildlife photography. Yesterday morning was overcast, so I decided to do some shake and bake bird photography. We have an irrigation ditch near our house that has birds in it all season long. I needed some special gear for this shoot (see image above). I used my D850 with a 300mm F2.8 lens. Attached to this I used a RRS FR-91-SQR bracket and mounted two SB5000 flashes. Attached to each flash is a Better Beamer flash extender. I used the WR-R10 wireless transmitter (attached to the D850) to fire the speedlights.
I set the SB5000s to manual mode and full power, knowing that with the Better Beamer I could get enough flash distance to light up a bird flying past in the canal. My camera was set to Manual Mode, and I set my exposure so that the background would be a little dark compared to the bird, which would be lit by flash. Since it was getting bright, I used ISO L1 (ISO32) to get a shutter speed of 1/10 of a second at F10. I used group-area autofocus to track the bird in flight.
The camera setup is a little heavy for hand held shooting, but I needed to do that in order to quickly pan with the birds as they flew past. It is easier to shoot on a tripod when you are near a lot of birds constantly flying past. I really like this technique because it creates a new look, a different style of bird imagery. Abstract slow shutter speed bird photography is interesting and produces some great results. Adding a few speedlights and dragging the shutter takes it to a new level. Experiment with your photography; the best way to improve your creativity is trying new things and experimenting. Even if the images don’t work out, the process is as important as the end result, and your creativity will grow.
We still have two spots left on our online bird photography class. We’ll be talking about this and much, much more during the week. If you are interested, just click on the link.