emily dance

Emily and Anna's test dance photo shoot


All of this was inspired by seeing a video on dance photography using flashguns to light and freeze the action. So, at the end of 2013, I asked a friend to perform a few dance jumps and to see if I could capture the movement. Following on from this, I attend a dance and movement class at the SWPP convention earlier this year. As with most disciplines anyone tries to master, it take a while to perfect the skills required to then be able to sell those to a customer.

Start off with something nice and simple. All nautral light, no reflectors. Emily's hands mirror the curve of the window frame immediately above her.

The church I am part of moved into our first owned building, St Mark's in Woodhouse, Leeds this weekend. Whilst renovating the building, a sprung dance floor was added to the balcony area. It is a large area and also perfect for dance photography. There are a number of huge stain glass windows. The light from these windows is very diffused (soft), but intense. They also have a beautiful arch shape. It did not take me too long to size up their potential as a place to photograph people especially dancers. All of this shoot was done up there.

Now silhouetted in the frame. Please note the light coming through Emily's hair above her left shoulder.

Reaching to the light. Please notice the line that runs from the closest foot to the ended hand leading you towards the window.

The shoot

My two dancers were the elegant Emily and amazing Anna (both from my church). They are students studying at Leeds University and they love to dance. Dancers often make excellent models for photography because they are taught to have grace and poise. They are used to forming shapes with their bodies. It also helps if they also have a great deal of fun about them. This was not lacking especially when it came to Anna.

Anna sings, "I believe I can fly". As far I possible, I wanted the tips of her fingers and toes touching the edge of the window frame.

The girls came put with the idea of flowers being thrown onto the stage after a show.

Anna goes to pick them up in a dainty way. You can see shadow of the small spotlight in the top right corner.

Even though I wrote down a plan and a list of things to try, it only received a few ticks. We started off with some simple shots using the huge stain glass windows to frame and light them. I used a screen to block out some of the light from the window to my right. I wanted silhouette shots and ones where the windows light is blown out (over exposed) so the dancer is lit correctly. If you start with the simple, it gives both the dancers and you time to warm up and get into the 'zone'. Once you have something in the bag you can move onto something far more technical. I find this is useful when planning shoots unless other circumstances (like the weather or lighting) take president.

We then moved onto a shot inspired by another photographer (face it, most is). The idea was to fake light coming through a large window that cast a shadow on the wall behind. To add further interest, I put a mini spotlight on a stand close to the "window frame" to cast another shadow to break up the scene. A colour correction gel was also placed over the light to give the impression this was taken during sunset. Roses were added. The girls got to take them home as a "thank you" gesture.

This was lit with a Arri 300W through Venetian blinds. The intensity of the light was lowered in post processing to bring out the shadows of the slats. I love how smooth Emily's skin looks in this photograph.

The same lighting set up as the above, but I allowed the highlights to be blown out so Anna's face is well lit. The render was applied using Lightroom. A diffuser filter was used to give the dreamy effect.

For the next bit, the spotlight that cast the shadow was then used as the main and only light. The larger and more powerful light has a quirk. When you turn it off it will be a while before you can switch it back on. So, as time was a key factor, the smaller spot and less powerful spot was used. This was pasted through Venetian blinds to create shadows on the wall. In hind sight I should have had the girls sitting in dance poses, but this worked out in the end. This part of the shoot was more like a regular portrait session. Then again dancers need performance and sitting photographs for their portfolios.

We moved on from there to using flashguns to capture the dancers at the apex of their jumps and leaps. This was left to the end because I wanted the room to be as dark as possible. I used the same set up as I did the first time I did this. We used count so the dancer knew when to jump and I when the shutter needed to be pressed. For me, this was about capturing the jump and not whether the leap technically perfect.

We also tried using a strobing effect. This was something I had also seen on a video, but I had an idea this was not going to be very successful for technical reasons and the room needed to be pitch black. As you might have guest it was not and there was no way of making it so because there were other people working in the building.

For most of the shoot the camera was attached to my laptop so whenever a photograph was taken it was copied and then displayed on the screen. This meant that everyone could see what was happening. If you can see that the photographs are coming out well everyone is encouraged. If not everybody can see what needs to corrected.

I think this photograph has a very 1960's feel to it. What do you think?

All smiles in the warm sun, but really it is still winter in Leeds. That is a big smile.

Technical aspects

Two lens were used a 24-70mm f/2.8 for most of the shoot and an 85mm f1/.8 for the portrait shots in the middle. At times the 85mm was fitted with a diffuser fliter to give the ladies a more dreamy and soft feel to the image. The camera was full-frame and in manual mode throughout. With the window and faked sunset parts the lens was wide open at f/2.8, ISO 1600 with a focal length of 32mm for the wider angle. In fact, apart from the flash photography, all of the shoot was at f/2.8 because the light was not that intense.

For the jumping part of the shoot the flashguns were set to manual and 1/8 power and triggered with the cameras flash using the Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS). I narrowed the spread of the flashguns as much as I could. The aperture was f/8 at the start of and I opened it to f/5 during the shoot to let more light in. If the dancer jumped vertically, I prefocused the camera and took the shoot. I could not rely upon the auto focusing to pick out the dancer in time or (from known experience) it would focus on the back wall.

The post processing was done in Lightroom. A number of fittings had to be removed from the wall in the wider angle shots. The sunset effect with the Venetian blinds was created by setting the white balance to sunlight. The Arri 300W spotlight has a tungsten bulb temperature or 3250K. Buy using the 'wrong' settings it gave the photos warmer look and the illusion this was shot in a sunnier place. The white balance was then tweaked to tone down the orange. Some areas of the photographs (during the portrait section) had areas darkened so the slats of the blinds you be seen clearly. The various renders were done in Lightroom and tweaked. Photoshop was only used to clone areas where more precision was required.

A Lupo 800 spotlight with a colour correction gel was used to create the sunset effect for the wide angle shots. A gobo (go between) was used to create the window frame effect.

Please remember, this is a test shoot and is about me refining my photography skills. I would not be able to do this without the invaluable help, time, patience, kindness and general loveliness of Emily and Anna.

Emily jumping.This was the best shot from this part of the shoot. I love how there are so many diagonal lines form by her arms, legs and even the folders of the dress.

A big jump and Anna shows of her lush head of hair. Even the dress wants in on the act. I love the way Anna's hair is lit.

Conclusions and something for next time

There are still a number of different ideas I need to try for the future. As was mentioned at the start of this blog, the list has still got a number of ticks to go. An extra flashgun could be placed behind the dancer so it lights her from behind or two from back pointing inwards.

In general, I was pleased with how most of it came out considering time and other constraints. I think the diffusion filter is a bit too much for my liking, but for just over £18, I cannot complain. I will be able to use it for weddings and other shoots. I will have to fork out for a more subtle soft focus filter in the future.

There were times when I wished there was another camera at hand to take a few shots of Anna messing about. I could not take because the camera was on a tripod at the time or it was pointed at Emily. Anna left her hair curlers when she left. If she ever leaves them around your place please return them to her as soon as possible. They are very 'precious' to her. It was the first thing she asked for when I saw her the next morning. No, "Hello, how are you? I had a great time yesterday, how did the photographs come out?". Just, "Where's ma curlers?"

One of the best aspects of having more than one dancer is they help each other. It was great peering through the lens and hearing Emily telling Anna to point her foot or try this.

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?

A few more photos on Facebook.

HTML Comment Box is loading comments...
blog button
contact button
contact button