nicci bateman

A concept dance shoot with Nicci Bateman


Concept and practice shoots have always played a large role in my photography. It is one of the best way to grow and develop as a photographer. You can apply idea and techniques you have learnt, it gives you the opportunity to experiment and try a few things before offering them on a commercial basis. Some of these ideas have been running rampant around my head for months, so giving them an outlet is a good way to start the New Year. The hardest part is finding someone who is willing to be you test dancer.

Nicci started following me Twitter. I started tweating her links to some of my work and she volunteered her services. At the time the only photographs I wanted to add to my portfolio were ones of dancers throwing powder around. But then a few ideas popped into my head and I saw a few other photographs on the Web and that meant I needed a dancer. Hence Nicci! She is dance graduate and still teaches today.

Whenever I see a photograph that I like, one of two things happen. I will either try to emulate it or improve it. When it comes to the latter it is by incorporating better or punchier lighting. The composition will often be great, but the lighting can often be unimaginative, too conservative or lacking pizzazz. Lighting is the biggest singular factor that will make or break a photograph.

The shoot

As we had never worked together before, I started off with something that did not require Nicci to jump and spin across the floor. I had seen someone else take a photograph of a dancer under a photography umbrella. I liked the idea and wondered what would happen if I used a larger one (my white wedding/golfing one) and lit the dancer through it. Thus using it as a light modifier and prop at the same time. The results are to the right. The light is beautiful and soft.

nicci bateman creative dance photography

1. One of the early umbrella shots. We were still thinking about how best to pose Nicci under it. Even though the flashgun is visible in the shot and there is a lot of lens flare, I like the lighting in this photograph.

nicci bateman creative dance photography

2. After we threw around a few ideas we came up with this pose. Nicci's hair follows the line of her arm and leg. The light on her face is beautifully lit with soft shadows. The only light source is coming from behind her. A reflector was placed out of shot on the left. I love the triangles created with her arm and legs.

The next idea came from combining the umbrella with the veils/scarves I bought for my previous dance shoot. If you replaced the veil with an umbrella and lit it in the same fashion, what would the end result be? An umbrella makes a good portrait prop too. Giving your model a prop will help them find a pose. In the case of an umbrella, they may put it over their shoulder or hold it above their head. The brolly would have to be translucent so the underside could be lit. So, it made sense to buy a Chinese parasol.

nicci bateman creative dance photography

3. One of the early Chinese parasol shots. Nicci thinks she is Usain Bolt. Lighting the umbrella makes it stand out from background.

nicci bateman creative dance photography

4. We took six shots like this one and this is one a my favourite portrait shots to date. Nicci's face is lit with a Rapid Box beauty dish. It created a beautiful even light. Again, lighting the umbrella lifts the whole photograph.

nicci bateman creative dance photography

5. The first of the more dance related shots rather than a static pose. Although Nicci was still when this was taken.

nicci bateman creative dance photography

6. Lighting the parasol from the left whilst the Rapid Box lights her face from the right. I think the parasol looks like it is glowing like a sunset.

I also bought 3 metres of translucent red cloth with sparkly thread woven in. We had fun with that. So the end of the veil had a bit of height, Martin (Nicci's fiancée) stood on a chair (after he returned from being lost trying to find a local shop that was literally around the corner) and held up the other end. He came in very useful during the shoot with some excellent suggestions, expressing his opinion on the photographs and turning off/on the lights between shots.

nicci bateman creative dance photography

7. One of the veil shots. Nicci was spinning on the spot. Although her face is covered in this shot, we both liked this photo. The lighting brings out Nicci's form.

nicci bateman creative dance photography

8. Having a longer veil helps to create more of a rainbow effect over the dancer. I did consider buying a rainbow veil.

nicci bateman creative dance photography

9. Nicci appears to be having fun here adding a bit of 'kick' to the shot with the veil spilling out behind her. This is what I wanted from the start. A 'back of the net' moment.

I have tried to a strobe effect before (with limited success) and wanted to nail the technique. We started off with something simple. Nicci would kneel and just move her arms in a smooth arc. Once we were happy with that, I introduced a couple of fans that I had been itching to incorporate in a shot for a while. That produced one of my favourite shots of the session. Check-out picture 12.

nicci bateman creative dance photography

10. A shot utilising strobe flash. She looks like the Hindu goddess Shiva with her many arms. Notice how delicate her hands look. That is one reason to use dancers for shots like this. An issue did arise when the arms were horizontal. They would "disappear". This was resolved in shot 12.

nicci bateman creative dance photography

11. More strobe lighting, but with a leg raise through 90 degrees.

nicci bateman creative dance photography

12. One of my favourite shots from the session. This was the first time the fans had been used during a shoot. They certainly added a bit of pizzazz to the photo. I love the way Nicci was able to time the movement to the fans are evenly spaced and there is not overlap, OH YEAH! I love the symmetry. They create a larger surface for the light bounce off and into the camera lens.

Then we added a bit of lateral movement across the floor with flashguns still in strobe mode. The last technique to try was using rear (curtain) sync flash. This is where the shutter stays open of a period of time and the flash fires just before the shutter closes. I had tried this before, but the trail leading up to the final shot was too 'busy'. This time is worked much better (photo 14).

nicci bateman creative dance photography

13. Strobe flash with latteral movement. The best shot because of Nicci's pointed leg on the far right.

nicci bateman creative dance photography

14. Rear sync flash. Here the light trail leading to the final position is subtle rather than too busy as it was in a previous shoot.

The whole shoot lasted about four hours. But the results were good. I now have a few more ideas that will show-off a dancer's skills and form. A massive "Thank you" to Nicci and Martin for their time and patience.

Post processing

In this shoot post processing took place in two stages. The first part was applying crops, adjusting the exposure and removing background detail using Lightroom. To fine tune a small number of the photographs, I used Photoshop. For the strobe shots, the exposure was increased for Nicci's arms and legs when they moved. The same was performed on the fans to lift them off the background.

Technical details

A full-frame camera with a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens throughout the shoot. Up to three flashguns were used for some of the shots. A Lupolux HDMI 800W spotlight was used to create the light trails in shot 14. The camera and flashguns were all set to manual and adjusted accordingly.

For the portrait shots there shutter speed was 1/125s, aperture f/4 at ISO 200. For the movement shots 1/800s, aperture f/4 and ISO 200. The long shutter shots had a shutter speed of 1.6 or 2 seconds, ISO 100 with an aperture of f/9 or f/11. The power of the flashguns ranged from 1/8 to full power.

A Westcott Rapid box (a softbox/beauty dish) set up as a beauty dish with a diffuser, was used to light Nicci's face in red parasol shots. I am a massive fan of this wonderful piece of kit.

A large silver reflector was used to bounce light back into Nicci's for the white umbrella shots. The only light source was a flashgun firing into the top.

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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