laura firth

A portfolio shoot with Laura Firth pro dancer


Laura is a dance and fitness instructor based in Huddersfield. Laura hired me for a few dance portfolio and portrait shots at the end of last year and we have kept in touch since then.

As part of my ongoing development as a photographer in the area of dance and movement, we got together to try and a few ideas. We did not have much time so if things did not go to plan the idea was dropped it for another day.

We had discussed the shoot beforehand. As a consequence of this, Laura brought along a dress with a flowing skirt that could enhance the sense of movement in the photograph. I think she said she had only worn it once before at a wedding (please correct me if I am wrong, Laura).

The shoot

The first part was a damp squib. I wanted to progress the 'rear curtain flash' shots that I had taken with Laura and Nicci before this shoot. 'Rear curtain flash' means when the shutter release is pressed the flash does not fire until just before it closes. If an object is lit and it is moving whilst the shutter is open (in this case 1.6 to 2 second), it will leave a 'light trail' behind it. When the flash fires just before the shutter closes, the object is frozen in time. When we tried this in a previous session, the light trail was too strong, but it was just right with Nicci.

The few shots of this I had seen taken by other photographers have a still shot at both ends of the 'light trail'. I set up the lights to do this, but because continuous light source was bouncing off various surfaces, the camera was picking up a lot of stray light. We could have relocated, but this would eat into our available time. The idea was scrapped and we went for a strobe flash shot.

Strobe flash means the flashguns fire a number of times during exposure. This had worked really well with Nicci, but there was one shot I wanted and I hoped Laura could pull-off the move. She has had some back problems so we went for something more conventional. The two best shots are displayed here.

laura firth

1. Strobe lighting whilst Laura is performing a cartwheel. We experimented with this a few times and this was the best photo from the batch.

laura firth

2. A more lateral shot. You can see each movement clearly.

Then some shots with the dress. I put a flashgun behind Laura to do one of two things. One was to fire some light into the skirt and the second was to break-up the blackness in the background a bit. The skirt worked really well.

laura firth

3. This was the first of the dress shots. The flashgun was placed behind and below waist height so it lit the skirt. In the end it was placed higher up as you can see from shot 5. Also note the 'S' shaped shadow on Laura's cheek. This is something photographers look-out for.

laura firth

4. This is one of my favourite shots from the session. I love the line skirt and Laura's leg make whilst her arms compliment this. It took threes attempts to bag this one. The first one was her showing me what she had in mind.

laura firth

5. The back light adds drama to shot shot. If you took it away the skirt would still be lit by light on left of the shot, but the top left-hand corner would be solid black and pretty uninteresting.

We finished with Laura hiding beneath a white wedding umbrella. She was able to squeeze beneath it with ease. This would be handy if were raining. I was tempted to walk off and just leave her beneath it, but we were on the clock, so I decided against it and it would have been cruel too.

laura firth

6. This is the first of the 'umbrella' shots. The catchlight in Laura's right eye draws you toward it. The shadow across her face creates a distinct contrast between light and shadow. This lighting technique is called 'split' lighting and is rarely used on women because it can be unflattering. In this case it works. If you saw the full size photo, you can make out catchlights in Laura's left eye too. This is a bonus feature. It adds a bit subtle point of interest to the shadow side of her face. I also like the rim of light sculpting around the edge of her face.

laura firth

7. This was a shot between shots. Laura was not quite ready and I pressed the shutter. The highlights on the left of her face as we look at it slims her face down (Laura already has a lean face any way). The couple licks of light on her cheeks highlight her cheek bone structure. The spines of the umbrella were edited out. A large silver reflector was placed to the right of the photo to reflect the light back into her face and body. The light is therefore very diffused, specular and flattering.

Post processing

Most of the post processing involved a bit of cropping, straightening, 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. A bit of 'dodging' was used to bring out the details of the skirt. I use Lightroom for to make changes to the whole or large parts of the photograph and then Photoshop for more the delicate work.

Technical details

A full-frame camera with a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens was used throughout. The two/three flashguns were triggered by the camera's built-in flash or another flashgun. For the dress shots the shutter speed, aperture and ISO setting were 1/800s , f/5 and 100 respectfully. For the strobe shots the settings were 1.6-2s, f/11 and 100 respectfully. For the 'umbrella' shots the settings were 1/125s, f/5 and 200 respectfully.

The camera and the flashguns were also operating in manual mode throughout. It meant I have more control over the final photograph and nothing unexpected happens because of the camera makes a decision out of turn.

laura firth

8. I think Laura looks like she is ready to pounce or very spider like. Again the spines have been edited out. The idea of the pose came from a photo from a previous shoot with another photographer. I loved the pose, but the lighting used was not up to scratch so I tried something a little different. The silver reflector is still being used. If it had been removed the final shot would have looked more like photograph six (above).

Final thoughts

For future 'umbrella' shots I am going to use a large rectangular diffusion panel to create the light effect so the spines of the umbrella do not have to be edited out. Huge respect to Laura for being so amazing, talented and being able to squeeze under that umbrella.

These kind of shoots are about developing and refining a product so they can be reproduced for a client on a consistent basis and with a minimal amount of fuss.

Booking a photo shoot

If you would like to book a shoot contact me. There is a special package for dancers and their audition portfolios. Dancer page and gallery here.

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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