Bicycle-Racing Captured using Second Curtain Photography

July 31, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

1 August 2014

Using second curtain in photography produces very interesting images that show a "light trail" behind a moving subject. Such still photographs are exceptional at evoking a sense of motion. Even with 'blink of an eye' shutter speeds, fast moving subjects can travel a fair distance. As a crude description of the technique, a shutter opens and allows the camera's sensor (or film) to capture available light. Immediately before the shutter closes, the second curtain, a flash fires and illuminates the moving subject.

EOS 1D-III, 0.3s at f/2.8, ISO 200, 52mm (24-70mm, f/2.8), Hellyer Park VelodromeEOS 1D-III, 0.3s at f/2.8, ISO 200, 52mm (24-70mm, f/2.8)Hellyer Park Velodrome

EOS 1D-III, 0.3s at f/2.8, ISO 200, 52mm (24-70mm, f/2.8), Hellyer Park Velodrome

One approach requires lower light levels with the shutter open. It is the partial lighting that creates the trail from reflections off the moving subject. The brighter flash "freezes" any movement just before the shutter closes, thus preventing any more capture of movement. Back in 2011, I was experimenting with second-curtain photography at Hellyer Park's velodrome. Bicycle-racing there is fast and several times a year events take place at night. These were ideal conditions for flash-photography with fast-moving action under the lighting of street lamps.

The learning process took several sessions but eventually met with success, as documented in a blogDespite knowing much of the mechanics to operate camera and flash in second-curtain mode, the exercise still needed one piece of information not readily explained in texts. At the velodrome, taking photographs from the inside of the track puts white hoardings in the background. These brighter objects tend to overwhelm any low light reflecting off the bicycle racers. Taking the vantage from outside looking down the banked track leaves a black apron behind the riders. Ultimately this gave the necessary contrast against the dimly lit motion trail.

1/10s, f/3.2, ISO 1250, EOS 1D-III, 70mm (70-200mm, f/2.8), Hellyer Park Velodrome1/10s, f/3.2, ISO 1250, EOS 1D-III, 70mm (70-200mm, f/2.8)Hellyer Park Velodrome

1/10s, f/3.2, ISO 1250, EOS 1D-III, 70mm (70-200mm, f/2.8), Hellyer Park Velodrome

The photograph above is an interesting result from second-curtain photography because of the imprints of "ZIPP" along the blue Côte D'Azur. The white lettering is bright against both the blue band on the track and the black wheel rims. The outcome in this image was both fortuitous and unintentional.


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