Dance Lessons

The baseboard actually helps this photo, because it defines the location of ground level. When the dancers are on the ground, it becomes a distraction.

Until this week, I’d only photographed dancers during actual performances. That meant shooting at ISO 1600, accepting the lighting as I found it, and tracking the action like a cat chasing a laser pointer. I would have to shoot thousands of frames to get a few decent images.

In an earlier post, I explained that I had an opportunity to photograph dancers in their studio, and I asked for help dealing with a cluttered background.

I'm still just beginning my electronic flash learning curve, but I'm pleasantly surprised with the emerging possibilities of my two small Nikon speedlights. As you can see, the darn baseboard also presents a horizon line that was dang hard to keep straight as I changed angles.

When I got to the studio for the shoot, they had removed a lot of the gear, but I quickly realized that working with the mirror still produced a busy background. However, they also uncovered a space of blank white wall, and although I knew the black baseboard would be a problem, it was less of a problem than any other background, so I set up my lights and went to work.

Are these the dance images I’ve dreamed of achieving? No, there are still a lot of issues of light, focus, and composition, but they are a step closer, and I’m happy with the results and the education.

I used two lights: an SB800 with a shoot-through umbrella as the key light, generally to the left. Because the wall was scratched, pitted and otherwise marred in places, I pointed an SB600 at it from the right side at full power to blow out the background.

The hair in her face doesn't bother me, because it enhances the sense of motion. The spill from the SB600 does bother me, but I'll get over it. Also, this was my favorite way to deal with the baseboard.

Lessons for next time: I want to experiment more with key light power, possibly add a reflector (or third flash if I can borrow one) to manage the light ratios on the dancers themselves, gel the background light for some color effects, and, if time allows, experiment with all hard light by removing the umbrella diffuser and cross-lighting the dancers with two flashes.

Biggest lesson of all? Heaven must be a giant photographic studio, with dancers as models and time to shoot…

Best of all, the dancers were smart, funny, and fun to work with.

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Filed under Camera Settings, Dance and Theater, Lighting

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