Dance shoot three with Rhiannon Rees


This is the third dance practice photo shoot working towards acquiring the necessary skills and ironing out the technical nuances to excel at dance photography. You can see the photographs and read the blog for the first and second shoots. There was also a great deal of input at a dance and movement workshop I attended in January 2014. The scarf waiving came from that workshop.

Rhiannon and I met at the end of last year, but only very briefly. We met properly whilst moving equipment from Notre Dame Sixth form college to our church's new home in St Mark's just across the road. We soon discovered we both were interested in dance photography and she was a dancer. A photograph I had taken with the dancer throwing flour in the air excited her. This was something she wanted to try. Although we were unable to include it in this shoot, we will do it soon.

Lit from behind from the left and right with a flashgun pointing straight down the path. We both loved the shapes in this photography.

A "Y" shaped lighting configuration and pose.

I was hoping to have about ten shots that I could use for my portfolio by the end of the day. Having never worked with Rhiannon before and trying out a new lighting set-up, you can never tell if everything is going to come together.

The first practice dance shoot was about seeing if I could replicate what I had seen on a YouTube video. It is rarely that simple when it comes to photography. It worked, so I moved on trying out different ways of lighting and capturing the shape and form of the dancers. The second one lacked a lot movement, so this one concentrated on that. I had also seen another photographer's work. They had photographed ballerinas in Kirkstall Abbey. Although the poses and dancers were amazing, the lighting was really flat and dull. It really did not do them justice and give drama or highlight their poise. The photographer was also stood up and this did not give their jumps a sense of height. I wanted to rectify this using what I had been taught about photography.

We tried to line up her foot with the tip of the arch. If someone else was there they would have held her foot whilst I framed the shot and then stood back.

More of a static pose. I love the way the light hits the edges of Rhiannon's hair. They are real highlights.

The shoot

The first part of the shoot was at Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds with what was the large stained glass window at one end. I had photographed a wedding with Emma Freeman a few years back. One of her photographs was of the groom dipping his bride and them being framed by the window. I loved the overall composition of the shot and wanted to incorporate it into this shoot. It meant I was lying on my tummy on the ground. It was not a warm morning either (5-6 degrees Celsius). The sun had only started to start poke through and most of the hall was in the shade. Both of us were pretty cold, but the results were worth it. We tried a few acrobatic moves framed by the window and then a few jumps once we synchronised our timing.

Perfect framing. This photograph would be very flat if there was no flash lighting.

By darkening the area around the window it helps the bubbles to stand out.

Adding bubbles into the mix is always fun and provides its own challenges. First of all the wand came away from the handle and then if you waived it too quickly no bubbles would form. Once we sorted that out the results were fun. Rhiannon was a little bit like the small yellow fish in the dentist's tank in the film "Finding Nemo" chasing after all the bubbles. "Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles! My bubbles!".

I then wanted to use the pillars to provide a bit of perspective, but I did not major on because it was more about lighting and framing rather than movement.

We will have to go back on another day and spend more time there taking dance orientated photographs in the grounds. I also took a few moments to give Rhiannon a quick lesson on how to use available sunlight in portraiture.

I love the way the veil catches the light and the rest of Rhiannon fades into the background.

Nice curve of the veil. The lighting on the veil and Rhiannon is just gorgeous!

After a short stop at a chippy, we headed to St Mark's church. Rhiannon insisted she did not want anything then nibbled most of the scraps and ate the 'odd' chip whilst I was driving and afterwards. Only the really thin and small ones, I hasten to add.

The symmetry is beautiful and so is the way the veil catches the light.

I love the "lamda" shape of Rhiannon's body and the separation between the veil and her.

We used the "upper room" in St Mark's for the second half. Rhiannon waived a couple of scarves around that I had bought in a charity shop for next to nothing. I pretty much left it to her to come up with the moves and then worked out how best to photograph it. The scarves were made of different materials and colours. Their interactions with the light gave a different feel to the overall look of the photograph.

We then ended the session with Rhiannon spraying cards from her hands. She did try leaping around and spraying when, but it was hard to keep everything in shot and make the timing work. In the end we decided on more for a static pose and to let the cards fly. This is something that will need a bit work to improve and make really hot, but we were pushed for time.


A 24-70mm f/2.8 lens on a full-frame camera was used throughout the day. I was planning to use other lens. Three flashguns were used to light Rhiannon for the majority of the shoot. They were controlled by the Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS) and triggered by the onboard flash on my camera. In most cases the flashguns were either arranged in a "T" or "Y" shape equidistance from centre spot that Rhiannon stood on or tried to hit. At Kirkstall the flashguns were all at a quarter power and the camera set at ISO 400, f/5.6 and 400/s to freeze the action. The centre spot was placed in a shaded area so the light was controllable.

The "T" configuration created "badger lighting" so a black shadow would appear straight down the model's face if she stood in the middle of the lights and was facing towards the camera. This is not very attractive so a third flashgun removes the shadow by lighting her from the front.

The "Y" configuration created a rim of light around the edges the model's body with one in front to light her face. This gave a far less dramatic or punchy look. The rim lighting brought out the shape of the dancer's body in a subtler way.

Indoors combined the different flash configurations again, but this time the flashgun in front of the dancer (from the photographer's point of view) was lowered in power. This was to prevent nasty large shadows being thrown up on the back wall. I really need a wide and tall black back drop. This would help in this area. Depending on the dance move the front flashgun was placed to the left or the right of the dancer. The idea was to light the veils and not too much of the dancer. The camera was set-up as ISO 200, f/7.1 or f/5.6 (to let more light in) and 400/s.

NB. Flashguns were used indoors because up until recently, studio strobes cannot be used over 200 or 250/s (depending on the model). Flashguns can if you configure your camera accordingly.

Rhinannon's arms form an 'S' shape with the cards flying out from either end.

Lit from one side only. I changed the lighting configuration and only one flashgun fired, but I still like the end result. Serendipity.

Post Processing

Most of this was done in Lightroom. A bit of straighting or cropping the photograph and increasing the "Black" content to deepen the feel of or hide the background. The black and white renders were done using either presets or by hand. Dodging and burning were used to increase the punch of the veils and reduce the impact of the floor respectively. Various fittings were removed from the background wall in the "upper room". Apart from that, very little else was done.


At the beginning of the blog I wrote that I would be been happy if I walked away with ten decent shots. In total there were something like forty that I would be pleased to show! There is something very special when you are working with someone you click with. It is just a pleasure! Seeing Rhiannon fall in love with Kirkstall Abbey was a treat. It does have so much potential for a photographer. Perhaps the reason we worked so well together is because she is interested in photography too? Rhiannon and I have concluded that we do make a gooood team.

This shoot captures a lot of movement and the lighting worked well. I wanted to use a bit of rear curtain flash, but it would not work with CLS or at least with the oncamera flash triggering it. I will have to look into this, otherwise I could use remote triggers for this. I will also have to think about adding an extra light behind the dancer and perhaps have two flashguns on each lighting stand so more of the dancer is lit and not just the top half. These are all technical issues that need addressing in the future. I will need to find more flashguns for this to work or to buy new strobes that can operate at higher shutter speeds. This also means I can the modifiers I already have to light the subject. Either way it is going to require money and that is always a touchy subject especially when you do not have any to spend on gear.

A few more ideas to try and areas to improve, but a big step forwards.

A massive thank you to Emma for lending me her flashgun and Rhiannon for being totally awesome!

I had to use Photoshop to move the cards on the left in a bit to improve the symmetry. The Pineapple log on Rhinnon's shorts break-ups up the blackness a bit.

Update 13th June 2016

Looking back, this shoot was the pivotal moment when it came to pursuing dance photography. This one showed me that I could do this and gave me some photographs to advertise what I could offer. It also gave me a firm platform to develop this skill. I would have liked to have work with Rhiannon again, but she got married and moved to York. I also have new friends to work with. I lost one and gained a small bunch of new ones.

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?

A few more photos on Facebook.

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