nuno and sara kiss

Creative contact dance photography

30th August 2016


Although I had built up a decent dance portrait portfolio over the years it did only have small of photographs where dancers worked together. I want to run a shoot where every shot involved dancers working together. I had an idea of lifts and the like, but when you work with other creatives you have to let them apply the paint onto your canvas. What I planned turned out very differently from what actually happened. In concept shoots, you have to go with the flow and be very flexible.

This would be my first shoot with Nuno (Sara's boyfriend), but I have worked with Sara before and Kit. Sara and Nuno had just moved really close to Burley Park. I had also lived close to the park and we decided to use it as our venue for the evening.

The shoot

We decided to work around west end of the park in the trellis area. We would use features to frame the dancers and act like a stage. From there I let them work out how best to use the surroundings.

I set up the lights (one from the front and two from the sides) and told the dancers to think of the area as a stage and audience was where the camera was situated. This is what they came up with.

Nuno and Sara

1. Alternative surfing. You can see what I mean about using the the surroundings.

Kit and Nuno

2. Nuno and Kit. Creating diagonals and shapes within the surroundings. I then cropped it accordingly.

A number of square crops were used in the final images. This was to compliment the environment of the brick work.

Nuno, Kit and Sara

3. Where they got the idea for this one, I have no idea. You could still see the sky in this shot as it was taken soon after the previous two. I think this really messes with your head.

Nuno and Sara

5. Creating diagonals and making you look twice because you expect to see Nuno's head and it is hidden behind Sara.

Nuno and Sara

6. Once they decided to create scenes that made you look twice, Nuno climbed up and peered down. You do not expect this. I had to darken the background so it would not be so distracting. Nuno does not like heights so we got him down from there as quickly as possible.

Nuno and Sara

7. A little bit more conventional in terms of improvised contact dance. I love the eye contact and the horizontal lines that are created.

Nuno and Sara

8. I can see our place from here. Trust dancers to come up with a creative way of gaining some elevation. Next time we are going to shoot this at a bus stop.

Nuno, Kit and Sara

9. This evolved from shot 8. Adding Kit meant a strong diagonal was created from corner to corner when cropped. If the hedge in the background had not been lit, Kit would have merged into the background and the path would be really dark.

Kit and Nuno

10. Alternative seating arrangements.

Kit and Nuno

11. Creating a backwards question mark.

We shot a number of photographs of them playing around with sparklers. I have not posted them because I like to display work that is at least a little bit special. I will revisit them and see what I can do with them (post processing wise) at a later date. For how, the one below worked well.

Sara and Nuno

12. Nuno and Sara having a sparkler duel. The light was created by a torch mounted on a tripod. At this time it was dark and the auto focus could not lock on. Having a torch overcame this issue.

Sara and Nuno

13. Back to improvised contact dance. Their bodies create an continous loop.

Kit and Nuno

14. We used a few smoke pellets and came up with this. Sara thinks they look like they are glued together at the chest. During one attempt, Nuno hit Kit a little too hard and sent him flying! I think for next time, I will put grids or barn doors on the flashguns to reduce the amount of light that spills onto the pillars and the background.

Sara and Nuno

15. An idea of Nunos taken from a piece that Sara choreographed. The kiss was added after a couple attempts. I love how their bodies form a cross shape and Sara's hair concels the kiss.

Sara and Nuno

16. A tighter shot with a bit more smoke.


I used a full frame camera in manual mode with a 24-70mm lens for the shoot with up to three flashguns. One key light in front with a 150cm octobox and to the left and two from either side (sometimes only one) both naked but zoomed in tight to 85mm. The power of the flashguns was set manually.

For most of the shots the camera was set to f/4, ISO 400 and 1/400th of second. In some shot I pushed the ISO up to 800 for any shots that involved smoke as people could be lost in it. Having the extra sensitivity meant the detail was captured.

Post processing

Most of the post processing was done in Lightroom. A bit of cropping, lens correction, gradient filters and sharpening in some cases.

The rest was performed in Photoshop. This was mostly dodging and burning (lightening and darkening specific areas), sharpening the detail, blurring (and the deemphasising detail in the back or foreground) and removing blemishes from the photograph.

The smoke required a lot of dodging and burning to bring out the detail.

Conclusion and thanks

I was hoping for a photographs with more classic ballet holds and lifts or ballroom-esk, but I was pleased with how all of this came about. Being abled to adapt and improvise around your subject is essential as a dance photographer. You have to think on your feet and go where the creative process is leading you. The lifts and holds will have to wait for another day.

Many thanks for Sara, Nuno and Kit for being amazing and working so well together. Then again, they have been this for three year, but this is always a bit different from working on a show piece or receital. I hope you enjoyed the shoot and the what we created.

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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