A Lighting Puzzle – Dancer Portraits

Local High School dance teacher Kim Hoj wants some pictures of the seniors in her program, for display at their final concert in May.  After scouting some locations on campus, I thought the dance studio itself would be a good venue, and today I went there to test my lights and make some notes. UCSB dance student Tenaya Cowsill graciously offered to pose for my tests.

I made a lot of sketches in advance, and this allowed me to set up the lights quickly.  I used an SB800 with a shoot-through umbrella as the key light to the left of the dancer, and an sb600 as a cross-light coming from the right rear of the room.

Obsessed with the lighting, I did not notice the overly complex and distracting background until I got home and saw the images on my big screen monitor. This is going to be an interesting challenge.

Shooting off-axis keeps me out of the picture, but I also want to keep two flash units out of the mirror, so this is becoming a geometry problem.

I originally intended to overpower the ambient light by shooting at 1/250 of a second at F8.  I didn’t want that much depth of field, but thought it wouldn’t matter if the background were dark. I did not expect so much light-spill from the flashes, and as you can see in the test images, the background is very distracting.

Normally, I would move the flashes closer to the subject and power down, so less light would reach the background. But the background is a mirror; so moving the flashes closer to the dancer will likely bring them into the image, at least in the background.  For all I know, that might solve my problem by blowing out the background, but I doubt it. It will probably just look like two flash units in the picture. Plus, I still have the challenge of the sound panels on the wall above the mirror.

The mirror could be a cool element in these pictures, as we get to see the dancer from two sides. Maybe the solution is to actually move closer to the mirror so we don't have to contend with the wall so much. That might also give me the option of a longer lens and less depth of field. Hmmmmm.

This is a pretty good pickle. I don’t have access to a large, plain background, which is what these images really require.  So I want to make this location work.  Any suggestions?


Filed under Camera Settings, Dance and Theater, Lighting

4 responses to “A Lighting Puzzle – Dancer Portraits

  1. Susannah

    Most schools have supplies of big sheets or rolls of paper. You might ask the teacher if they have any large black stuff to cover the mirrors.

  2. Mike

    How about eliminating more ambient by turning off the lights in the room. Leave on just enough light so the camera can focus.

    I bet some gelled light might add to the drama as well.

    • Good call, but the lights are off. There’s a giant window on the west side of the room, way up high, and we only have access to the room mid morning. I like the idea playing with some gels – I just wish I had more time for testing. I also should try to find out what color costume each dancer will be wearing. I think I need to move the lights closer to the subject, or move the whole setup closer to the mirror (and make the background more integral to the image). Of course, what I really need is my own studio. Maybe we should take up a collection…

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