The term dragging the shutter refers to when a photographer uses a longer shutter speed than what normally be used with the intention of creating motion.
Motion in a photograph can add a sense of reality to what normal could be still and dreary.
For example, look at this photograph I found on Google Plus. It’s a simple street photography style photograph that has birds flying around. If the birds were perfectly still and if the photographer did not drag the shutter to allow for motion, then the final product would be so different.
When a photographer drags the shutter, he/she might use a shutter speed between 1/30 and one second. Doing so allows for handheld use and the ease of creating motion. Anything longer than one second would be very difficult to hand hold.
Then there is this one.
In this photograph I had the shutter open so long that the buses, taxis and people are blurred, streaked and even removed. This is a classic example of dragging the shutter. To create the effect I used a 1o-stop neutral density filter, causing the camera to capture long exposure photographs.
Dragging the Shutter
Technically this photograph is not dragging the shutter because the shutter speed was not open long enough to be dragged. However, I still put this in the same category due to my use of shutter and movement.
Here is an example of shutter dragging used in music photography. I made that photograph many years ago of one of my favorite bands.
Or in the next photograph you see the lights on the amusement park ride spinning so fast that their one solid streaky line. Drag the shutter long enough and moving light creates this beautiful effect while still objects are exposed well and remain still.
Below is another example of dragging the shutter. However, this time it is combined with flash photography. By using flash, photographers can control the artificial and natural light separately but adjusting aperture and shutter speed. For this photograph, in order to capture the couple clearly and brighten the background, my aperture was f/4.5 and the shutter speed had to be dragged between 1/60 and 1/30. This was my favorite for the batch I captured in this spot.
Hopefully at this point you have a better understanding of what dragging the shutter can do for a photograph. Just in case you need some more on this, here is a video recorded for Adorama TV.
Now go out and give it a try. If you have questions, please comment and I will do my best to answer.
Thanks for reading and happy shooting,