laura firth dance

A dance shoot with Laura Firth pro dancer


Laura saw the photographs I posted of her friend, who is also a professional break dancer, Lauren Haywood and dropped me a line to arrange her own shoot. Laura is a dance and fitness instructor based in Huddersfield. She needed new photographs for her portfolio.

As a professional photographer, I do not want to rest on what I know, but to push my skills and knowledge with ever more challenging situations. Dance and movement is one such area. How do you convey the sense of movement in a static image or do justice to a dancer's grace? Especially Laura who has it in buckets! She wore a loose white top to bring out the sense of movement too and it also stands out from the black backgrounds. That helps a bit.

laura firth

1. The idea behind this shot was to use the arch to frame the dancer. Not only that, the stained glass window also added a second frame. One light lit her with another one in front of the pillar lighting the top of the arch.

The shoot

Prior to most of my shoots the client and I discuss what they want and I field a number of ideas to them. This means the shoot is tailored to their requirements. I brought along scarves, a streamer, a couple of fans (that were not used but Laura thought they were pretty) plus a selection of gear essential to the craft of photographing dancers.

laura firth

2. Here only the window frames her. Laura's position is perfect and even her hands compliment shape of the arch. This took a few attempts to achieve. She is lit with two strobes either side. The one on her left was powered down slightly so the majority of the light came from the right side.

The shoot was in a room at St Mark's church in Leeds not far from Leeds University. The is more than adequate space and the floor is sprung (essential for dancers who like leaping around). Unlike your average dance studio space there are high arches and stain glass windows that can be used as part of the overall look. You will see that we did utilise this.

laura firth

3. This is one of the few times you will see me use a square crop. For no other reason it suited the shot. Here we are using a streamer to give a sense of movement. Again two lights are used and Laura is framed by the window arch.

Some of the techniques that I employed were experimental and we has discussed this prior to the shoot. Laura was up to try anything to see how it would turn out. I had seen other photographers use them, but learning all the nuances is another thing even if you copy their settings use similar gear.

laura firth

4. This shot was almost deleted, but Laura liked it so, here it is. After a bit of post processing to bring out the veil from the background and I now agree with her. The movement is very explosive in my opinion. What do you think? You can leave a comment at the bottom of this page.

We did run over time a bit. When I say bit, we just lost track of it! You know how the old saying goes about having fun. The results were worth it. I hope you agree. You can voice your thoughts in the comments box below. We did not have enough time to take a few head shots either. We will have to do those on another day.

laura firth

5. Swish! Laura is smiling and you can see she is enjoying herself or was it a joke I told her that she found fun? Probably the former. I try to make these sessions as fun as possible for the performer. Nice swish too. You can make out the texture of the veil on the right-hand side of the photo.

We also tried using a strobe flash technique, but the shots were not up to scratch and we will have to try this again on another day. I know how to improve them. We are also planning another shoot for next year when it is warmer. It will involve flour being throw about and yes, it will be messy, but the photographs will be spectacular! There will be one unbreakable rule, NO flour bombing of the photographer when he has a camera in his hands and until after the shoot.

laura firth

6. It is funny what photographers look for in a photograph. When we looked at this photo at time we agreed the veil needed to in the empty space on the left (see photo 7), but take note of the shadow on the side of Laura's face. It is in the shape of an 'S'. This is something photographs try to achieve in some profile shots. To see it unintentionally was a real jaw dropping bonus for me.

Post processing

Most of the post processing involved a bit of cropping, straightening, adjusting the exposure, removing sockets from the wall 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. A bit of 'dodging' was used to bring out the details of the red veil.

laura firth

7. The veil is in the the space, but no 'S' shadow, oh well. Once again, Laura looks to be enjoying herself. This lighting set up highlights muscle tone really well.

Technical details

A full-frame camera with a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens was used throughout. The two flashguns were triggered by the camera's built-in flash or another flashgun. The camera was in manual mode throughout with the shutter speed, aperture and ISO setting being 1/800 , f/4 and 200 respectfully. The flashguns were also operating in manual mode. It meant I have more control over the final photograph and nothing unexpected happens because of the camera makes a decision out of turn. A Lupolux 800 spotlight (very similar to one you find in a theatre) was used for the long shutter shots.

laura firth

9. The last of this section of the shoot. The aim of the veil is to show movement and add a splash of colour too. I think Laura looks very elegant here. What do you think?

Final words

A massive "thank you!" to Laura for her immaculate folding of the background material and the scarves. Also for making this such an enjoyable and fun experience not forgetting snot free (in joke)! I was a little disappointed that she did not wear her Batman lounge pants in at least one photograph. See the portrait shoot here.

laura firth

10. I asked Laura is she could do a hand stand with one hand, yup! This was taken on the first attempt. We changed the angle for the next one so you can see Laura's other leg and face.

laura firth

11. It took a few attempts to bag this shot because the timing of the shutter press has to be spot-on and on previous attempts I cut off either her hand or foot! In the end, I tilted the camera along the diagonal to bag this. For all the effort, this is my favourite shot and she has created some beautiful lines with the body.

laura firth

12. This shot used what is called "rear curtain flash". This means the shutter is left open for a period of time (1.6 seconds in this case) and the flash fires just before the shutter closes. I used a Lupolux 800 positioned to the right of the photo to light Laura as she moved across the floor. We tried this a few times. This was the first time I had attempted this with a dancer. We were pleased with the results, but there is plenty of room to improve this technique.

Booking a photo shoot

If you would like to book a shoot contact me.

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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