laura simpson dance

A dance and portrait shoot with Laura Simpson


Just under a year I covered a charity dance shoot organised by the Dance Studio, Leeds. Laura was one of the performers and I took this shot of her and her dance partner. Laura's head is hidden in the shot. She bought this photograph and a few weeks ago dropped me an email to arrange a portrait and dance shoot.

laura simpson lauren haywood

The shoot

The shoot was in one of the rooms at St Mark's church in Leeds. The floor is sprung and there is a large space to work in beautiful stained glass window to work with.

Laura wanted a head shot and dance photographs. As these were for auditions, I reigned back my normal desire to be really arty and creative during a photo shoot and produced the following types of shot.

laura simpson portrait

1. Laura has a narrow face with some lovely cheek bones. I added a bit of shadow and digital blusher to bring them out in these shots. This angle highlights the gentle curves of her profile (looking at the left side of the photo) from the forehead down to the chin. By leaning forward prevents this shot from looking ordinary. 1/160th second, f/8 ISO 200.

laura simpson portrait

2. A front on pose with some wonderful catchlights (the reflections from the light source) in her eyes. The tilt of the head and shoulders stops this type of shot looking too much like a passport photo. They are rarely flattering. 1/160th second, f/8 ISO 200.

A number of portrait shots were taken using a plain wall and then the windows as a background. It is important to remember these photographs are for auditions otherwise I would have used far more creative lighting with hair lights and shots were Laura is not looking at the camera.

Laura was sat on a chair in these photographs. I missed having the posing stool in my studio as it helps to create the correct posture. A single light source was used with a small silver reflector placed in her lap and angled upwards to prevent any strong shadow appearing beneath her chin. Her necklace stops that particular area from being devoid of interest.

The following shots are more about dance and movement. Laura picked what she was doing and then it was up to mean to light, frame and photograph what she had created.

laura simpson portrait

3. The window arch helps to frame the dancer and the stained glass windows stops the background from being plain and ordinary. Laura's arms create a strong verticle line with the window. 1/400th second, f/2.8 and ISO 200.

laura simpson portrait

4. Here her head is further back but the strong verticle line has been lost a little. It still works in my opinion. Her hair is well lit. 1/400th second, f/2.8 and ISO 200.

laura simpson portrait

5. One of Laura's hand stands. Framing and timing are key in these kind of shots. ISO 200, f/2.8 and 1/400 s.

In shots 5 and 6 we went with a plain background because the shapes Laura was creating were clashing with the strong lines created by the stained glass windows. Framing was much harder for these shots so we ditched the arch. The camera also needed to be tilted slightly for shot 5 so her arms created a vertical line. These shots were taken within three attempts and are all about timing rather than holding down the shutter and hoping for the best. The flashguns cannot handle firing in quick succession.

All of this was covered in an hour with less than fifty exposures taken overall. About ten of them were test exposure so I could calibrate the camera or frame the shot for the dance photographs.

laura simpson portrait

6. This was a fun shot to take. Laura keeled over a few times or the right foot was not behind the thigh. In the end the back of the left leg is spot-on horizontal! Way to go, Laura! OH YEAH! ISO 200, f/2.8 and 1/400 s.

Post processing

Lightroom and Photoshop were used during the post processing. Most of it involved cropping, dodging and burning (lightening and darkening), adjusting exposure and adding a high pass filter to increase the detail in the photographs. I had a remove some of the wall fittings in shot 5 and 6 and converted them to black and white.

In the portrait shots I added a bit of blusher to highlight Laura's cheeks bones structure. Placing a reflector under her chin removes any shadows in the shot, so I added them back in with a touch of colour.

Technical details

A full-frame camera with an 24-70mm f/2.8 lens was used throughout. A one flashgun was used for the portrait photographs. It was fitting with a Westcott Apollo beauty dish with an extra diffuser. The light created by this light modifier is gorgeous. A small silver reflector was placed beneath her chin to reduce the shadows beneath her chin. This type of lighting is often known as 'clam shell' or 'beauty' lighting.

I had to guess the correct exposures because my light meter was lying to me (Later on, I did find out why it does not give a correct reading).

Two naked flashguns were used for the dance shots. They were placed either side of the dancer and triggered by the camera's flash.

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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