Kit King

A concept dance shoot with Kit King, Joanna Bordon and Erica Mulkern.


I met Joanna and Kit King at 'Net Night' at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Leeds a few weeks ago. We arranged a shoot at the school so they would have an idea of what it was like to work with me. Having photographed Joanna the previous evening with Kit (read the blog entry) it made it easier because they already had a feel of how I worked during a portrait shoot. Working on a dance and movement shoot is a bit different though. For starters, it is driven far more by the dancers and their style and ability.

Erica Mulkern also tagged along after contacting me through Facebook. She has worked with a number of photographers before. I think this was the first time she had worked with a photographer who enjoys working with dancers. It would be interesting to find out her thoughts on how I compared to the others. This is the first time I have worked with them. I was a little nervous, one photographer and three dancers. It was going to be interesting.

The morning session for the shoot was in the Lighting Studio and afternoon in Studio 3 both in the Northern School of Contemporary Dance.

To give you a general feel for the shoot, think of three of Gru's Minions working together. Two can dance and the third has a camera (there was only one 'sensible' person in this group) and you have an idea of the level of silliness at times. This is fine when you are not on the clock and just having fun.

The shoot

One the stuggles of pulling of what is known in photography circles as a 'rear sync flash' shot is having a room with almost complete darkness and a seamless black background. The Lighting Studio did not have a seamless background, but it was black and I can work with that. When you use rear sync flash the shutter stays open to capture the ambient light and just before the shutter closes the flash fires to freeze the subject. If this technique is used on a moving object a light trail is created and hence a sense of movement.

The session started off with Kit. We had discussed this during the week and his moves would have a 'Kung Fu' feel to them. He even brought a prop sword with him. Most of the early shots just involved lateral movement across the floor and then I asked Kit to end in a jump.

kit king creative dance photograph

1. There is a spotlight to left of photo that lights Kit as he moves across the floor and then he timed his jump to coincide with the flashgun firing. 1.6s, f/8, ISO 100 and 50 mm.

creative dance kit king

2. Kit with his sword

creative dance kit king

3. Less lateral floor movement, but there is still a sense of it.

Then Erica had a go.

joanna bordon

4. A dancer does not need to move very far for this effect to work. The odd thing about this shot is you can see Erica's left hand through her raised leg. But that is the nature of this kind of photography.

During some of these shots, Jo was using my count to take photos at the same time. In some cases the results were really good. She was using Kit's camera. If he posts them I will put a link here.

joanna bordon

5. Erica used one of my fans as a prop. The orange glow is created by the spotlight being a different temperature to the flashgun.

These photos are still not quite what I am after (I know I can do better), but I think I have come up with a solution that requires a bit more work and combining two photosgraphs together. Watch this space!

joanna bordon

6. This shot utilises the strobe function on the flashgun. Erica moved from left to right from the camera's point of view. It is all about the hair swish and she is worth it! ISO 100, f/8 and 1.3s

After lunch, Joanna took to the floor. She brought a pair of shoes with her called "New Yorkers" and a dress that had more of a 1920's look to it. The rest of the day was spent photographing Jo improvising with veils, bubbles, Chinese parasols and a fan. She is wearing one of my trilby hats. All the following photographs were taken in studio three. It was much harder to work in this room because the shutters bled light into the room and there were lots of reflective surfaces including the light fittings, not the mention the fire exit sign and light!

joanna bordon

7. The idea behind this was to make the veil as billowy as possible and use the flash to light it up. When we tried this the cloth often ended up covering Jo.

joanna bordon

8. This is a composite shot. It was difficult to feature both veils in the same shot. In one shot a veill obsure half of Jo's face. The left veil was added from another photograph. This is a shot I have had in my mind to do for some time. The movement comes from the veils and not the dancer. The next time it will be both. In a previous shoot the dancer was still, but the movement came from playing cards being thrown outwards.

I then introduced bubbles for Joanna to interact with. There is a danger that the model/dancer becomes transfixed with them. They become like the little yellow fish in Finding Nemo. "Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles! My bubbles!" This is exactly what happened with Jo. I had Kit and Erica blow them into shot. I had to ask Jo not to look like she had blown them.

joanna bordon

9. Here she goes for a kick. The clustering of the bubbles is just perfect. Like many dance and movement shots, it is all about timing. The back light was part or the original composition and not added in later.

The next two shots are static, but work well in portfolio for a dancer.

joanna bordon

10. This was all Jo in terms of the pose. It is all about the shapes. There is an elongated diamond from the top of her head, down her hair, arms and to the tips of her fingers. The umbrella then forms another flattened triangle. The difference in the way her hands are positioned breaks-up the symmetry and adds a bit of tension to the overall composition. One shot. Upon reflection, I should have used a different lighting set up.

joanna bordon

11. Again, I left Jo find her own pose. I was not sure the flash at the back would fire because it works on line-of-sight and being behind the umbrella it may not fire. It did and this the was end result. Just one shot and moved on.

joanna bordon

12. A friend posted a video of someone making origami butterflies on Facebook. I thought it would be an idea to make two dozen of them and incorporate them into the shoot. Kit and Erica threw them into the shot. Again another well timed image. You can just make out Jo's face in amongst those curls. Nice foot placement, girl!

joanna bordon

13. To make this shot, we loaded Erica's hands with the paper butterflies and she threw them into the air when she jumped. That girl can leap. If we had been in the Lighting Studio we could have dropped the butterflies from step ladders. This shot is a bit like the main photo used by the NSCD. I like mine better, but I am biased.

Post processing

Most of the post processing involved a bit of cropping, tilting, adjusting the exposure and ensuring the background was an even black. I try to do the majority of the hard work at the moment the photograph is taken rather than sat behind a computer. (This is something else I learnt from the top pros.) A bit of 'dodging' and 'burning' (lightening/darkening) was used to bring out the details.

I use Lightroom for to make changes to the whole or large parts of the photograph and then Photoshop for removing lighting fittings and to even out the black background. Apart from photo 8, nothing has been added or altered. It is not my style to do this. Every paper butterfly and bubble was placed there by the other dancers. The light flare in the background has been lightened to bring out the rays, but has not be altered in any other way.

Technical details

A full-frame camera with a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens was used throughout. The camera and flashguns were in manual mode. For shots 1-5 the camera settings were 1.6-2s, ISO 100 and f/8. Shots 9-13 1/800-1000s, ISO 200 and f/4. A home made reflector dish was placed on the flashgun in the background to give the flare a more circular look. A flag was placed on the main flashguns to stop the light from spilling onto the background.


No dancers were hurt or injured (especially Jo when Erica threw the veil and I thought it could have hit her in the eye) during this shoot. A few bubbles were burst though. If this upsets you we do apologise.

Final thoughts and thanks

A few weeks ago a dancer suggested I should play music whilst shooting. It would help. It does make sense, but in some cases it causes more problems than it solves. In this case, Kit put on "All that jazz" from the musical "Chicago". This was appropriate considering how Joanna was dressed.

The problem was Erica and Joanna started dancing and singing along to this. To compounds matters, I could not take photographs because they were not standing between the lights. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow so I took a few photos that required tweaking in post processing so you could see what was going on. When time is not an issue, this is great. It is fun to work with people who are enjoying themselves. Another reason for not using music is having to compete with it when I need to direct and count so we can synchronise the move/shot precisely.

Many thanks to my amazing dancer Minions and a special round of applause to Kit for arranging all of this. I had loads of fun and I hope they did too. I hope Kit will post the behind the scene photos soon.

My favourite photograph from this shoot is the one below. It is very different from my usual dance and movement photographs. It is made possible because of a walkway above the studio floor. It provides a solid elevated platform to shoot from.

creative dance kit king

14. I had seen a photo on Kit's Facebook page and this is where the idea for this photo came from. Kit was blurred and I figured I could make his jump pin sharp and throw a shadow on the floor at the same time for added interest. This was the third attempt at the shot. The others involved setting up the lights and composition. There are two flashguns one either side of him providing some light on his right arm and side. If we had had more time I would have tried a few different lighting set ups to try to compress the shadow.

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Your thoughts


Please leave any thoughts, comments, questions or just say, "Hi!" (not literally) below. I really do appreciate feedback. E.g. What is your favourite photograph and why?

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