Laura Perrot

Laura Perrot woodland and smoke shoot

3rd June 2016


This is my second shoot with Laura in as many days. The idea behind the shoot was to replicate a shot I had seen on video on YouTube. When I am looking for ideas, I will have a look for videos that incorporate something different that have an edge to them. This often involves the photographer doing something a little different. I watch them and wonder if I could do something similar, but use a dancer instead of a model. This presents a challenge because I cannot use slow shutter speeds. I need to increase them from 1/125th of a second (what I would use for a standard portrait shoot) to at least 1/400th to reduce motion blur to a minimum.

In this case I saw this clip on how a photograph of an archer in a woodland clearing at night with mist in the background and eerie light. The trick was it was shot on an overcast day during daylight hours! I had seen how photographers had done this before so it should not be hard for me to replicate the look. The unknown factor was the smoke/mist.

I have been itching to use actual smoke in a shoot since the start of the year, so I thought I would give it a go and roped in a few dancers. As it happens I live in a small wood so finding a glade was not a problem. We booked a date and the weather was good. There was little wind that day to blow away the smoke, just a breeze you could hardly feel.

The shoot

Sara pulled out because the shoot clashed with a rehearsal and Flow was pooped so it left only Laura. In most cases I would have been fine with this, but having watched the video it required a third person to create the smoke in the background. Flow suggested Kit and after a phone call we picked him up from a supermarket not too far from where I live.

Laura Perrot

1. A test shot so the exposures are OK and the lights are in the right place. You can see that there was plenty of daylight at this time (about 8pm). I had to increase the shutter speed to 1/400th of a second instead of 1/60th for actual shoot.

You can see from the photograph the left-hand side is warm, but the right is much colder. The bluer light gives the scene a chilli look, but the main light on Laura is what you would expect if she were standing in sunlight. The light to the right created a wonderful spot of rim (edge) lighting to bring out Laura's body shape.

After Kit worked out how to light the smoke pellets, the smoke drifted across the back. We placed the pellets on a ceramic dish so there was no chance of them setting the leaf litter alight. The smoke has not been coloured. The colour comes from the way I set up the camera and then lit it. In many cases Kit ran across the space between Laura and the back light spreading the smoke.

Laura Perrot

2. One of our first shots. It looks like it is shot in the dead of night and it is pretty cold out there. Actually it was very mild and comfortable. I love the shadows that Laura's hand and foot creates in the smoke. It was working pretty well from the start.

Laura Perrot

3. Laura working the scene. It looks like she has been surprised or is being hunted by some huge ghastly monster in the woods just out of shot. Actually it was Kit and he is small and harmless unless he needs feeding. I do like the lumberjack look.

We did take a number of photographs using the lumberjack outfit, but they do not feature in this blog. I am just cherry picking. Here is what happened when the breeze blew the smoke straight at us. It was difficult to know which way it was blowing because even licking a finger to gauge its direction or looking at the leaves moving, it was hard to know where it was going to go.

Laura Perrot

4. Laura shouts, "Take the photo!". "I can't.", I reply, "I can hardly see you!". This happened on a number occasions. Fun times!

We had a quick break involving a costume change into a green dress provided by Flow. This moved the shoot up a gear because the skirt provided a sense of movement. It was also the perfect colour for a woodland scene.

Laura Perrot

5. Add a trilby (jazz hat) from my collection and sing, Laura are you walking, are you walking, Laura?

During the post processing I listened to Michael Jackson especially this sub set. It set the mood. One song in particular was played over and over, "Another part of me." There are a couple of Thriller shots too that if you flicked from one to the other, it made it look like Laura was performing part of the dance routine from the video.

Laura Perrot

6. Laura is a dream and a laugh! "Owww!"

Laura Perrot

7. Kit you make me so angry eating all of the cake! or Why did I choose to go to Birmingham? No one will understand my beautiful French accent or I them! I removed the flare from the forward facing flashgun. I thought it looked better.

Laura Perrot

8. How do you like it like ziss? The spill off the back light creates a small tunnel of light and make it look like is was placed behind the bush and not in front of it. I love the hands.

Laura Perrot

9. This shot is just perfect. The smoke is well contained and the skirt swish if adorable. Laura is lit perfectly with a charming smile too.

Laura Perrot

10. A tighter shot. I let Laura do what she wanted and then composed the shot accordingly. What I like about this photo is how her arms act as boundary between the smoke and the clear air. Laura did not look around to see what the smoke was doing during the shoot.

Laura Perrot

11. Kit comes out of hiding. I asked them to reproduce one of the moves from Sara's piece where one dancer jumps up and wraps their legs around the other's waist. This shot messes with your head because you expect Laura's leg to be where Kit's left leg is. Nice work!

Joanna Bordon, Leake street, david bowie

12. After a few attempts we got this shot of them leaping together. Laura's hair is just crazy. In all the other shots Kit's mouth is always wide open.

Laura Perrot

13. Laura wanted to reproduce one of Sara's shots from the previous day where she flung her hair back. I positioned her so the forward facing light was right behind her head. This was the end result.


For the shoot I used a full-frame camera with a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens throughout. The camera was hand held. The lighting set up for most of the shoot is below. The octobox had an orange CTO (correction tungsten orange) gel over it. The white balance was set to tungsten on the camera. This resulted in Laura being lit with the correct colour temperature (daylight) and the other lights had a colder blue appearance.

lighting diagram

The camera was set to ISO 1600, f/4 and 1/500th of a second. Next time I may boost the power of the main light so I can dial down the ISO and purchase radio triggers when I can afford them.

The smoke was created by smoke pellets used for testing chimneys and extractor fans. They gave about thirty seconds worth of smoke. I was a little concerned that they would not produce enough smoke for this kind of shoot. Other photographers had advised using smoke bombs used by paint ballers. The pellets were much cheaper and, as you can see, produced enough smoke. It was also a blessing that they only lasted for thirty second when the breeze blew the smoke right at me. I always knew we would have clear air pretty soon.

The second set up used the lighting configuration below. The back light is pointed backwards to light a Laurel bush behind Laura. If it were not there that corner would be dark and empty. The large softbox was placed behind a tree.

lighting diagram
Laura Perrot

14. This is the end result using this lighting set up. By this time it is about 10pm. It was pretty dark under the tree canopy, but not too dark outside of the wood.

Laura Perrot

15. A static shot without any smoke.

We called it a wrap around 10pm because the camera was having problems focusing. I tried illuminating her with a torch, but even that was insufficient. We had plenty of great shots to work with. You cannot be greedy and I wanted to have a look through our work before I dropped Laura and Kit off home. More to the point Kit wanted to eat some cake.

At my computer we were looking through the photographs and Kit offered Laura some Victoria sponge cake. She only wanted a small piece. She broke a piece off and it was gone in the blink of an eye! Someone was also in need of cake. I had fed them before the shoot. Laura must have burnt off a lot of calories.

Post processing

Most of the post processing was done in Lightroom. A bit of cropping, lens correction adjusting exposure. There were spots of daylight breaking through the gaps in the canopy so a gradient filter was placed over the areas and the exposure reduced so most of them disappeared. The brighter ones were removed using Photoshop.

Photoshop was then used to bring out the detail in the smoke and Laura's skirt. In most cases sharpening too. I had to remove the light stand of the back light and Laura's black top where I could. I enhanced the flare from the forward pointing light and remove the odd bit of lens flare.

Laura Perrot

16. Here the light to the right of the shot did not fire. It works on a line of sight system and I was too far forward. I still like the shot.

Laura Perrot

17. Once again the light to the right of the shot did not fire. I still got the desired shot. This was inspired by another creative dance photograph I had seen, but we put our own mark on it. Laura's foot is touching a tree. A friend suggested a wooden stake would make her look like a slayer from Buffy the vampire slayer.

Final thoughts and thanks

This was one shoot I had been looking forward to for a while. To be able to do it and for it to work so well was a triumph for me. The end result was not quite the same as the photo that inspired this shoot, but I do not want my work to look like an exact copy of another photographers. I did like combining various photographic techniques in one shoot.

Laura did a great job and made all of this happen. I cannot forget Kit who jumped in to fill in the gap left by Sara and Flow. He was rewarded by being fed (he had not eaten all day and was very hungry). Without him this would not have worked as well. He also kept us going with a tub of sweets that Laura loved.

Laura Perrot Laura Perrot

18. Another outtake. Another time when the smoke blew into the dancers. A shame. You can see how much light was coming through the tree canopy and therefore it was not that dark outside when we shot this.

The whole shoot was really quick fire. We discussed and idea, I framed the shot and Kit created the smoke. Laura then improvised once I said, "Go". She went from pose to pose in quick succession whilst the smoke was there. She was wonderful! It is rare for me to take so many unique shots with one dancer.

Thanks again to Flow for the loan of the dress. It was perfect and made Laura look gorgeous! The whole evening was bags of fun.

Laura Perrot Laura Perrot

19. Why is everyone shouting?, LOUD NOISES!

Please leave a comment below and let me know what you thought of the photographs.

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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