Leaping Beauty, Part 2: Solo to Group to Solo

I ended the last entry with my first image of Tori, lit with two SB600s and one SB800, using the D300 camera’s pop-up flash as a wireless controller.  I was reasonably satisfied with the lighting. Here is my favorite shot of Tori from that early session:

Tori is a photographer as well as a dancer, so I was pleased that a prior commitment meant I got to photograph her two hours before the rest of the group. Other photographers make very good guinea pigs, and she was very patient as I figured out how I wanted to frame and light the session. Note that the images of Tori are shot from a lower, more level angle than all the other solo shots. There will be a quiz next week on the importance of this.

Having dialed in the lights and camera for the space and the backdrop, I forgot one important thing: when the rest of the dancers arrived, we needed a group shot. So, the first thing I had to do after setting everything up? Tear it down and move it out of the way.

Fortunately, I have a new philosophy about group shots. I no longer fear and loathe them, because I no longer try to light them in an interesting way.  It’s just too difficult to control the shadows when the light moves too far to the side(s). Instead, I put flashes with reflector umbrellas a couple of feet to either side of the camera to provide a soft, even front light. Then I place another speedlight behind the group.

The group would not fit within the width of the black backdrop, so we hauled it out of the way. In this case, the flash behind the group was pointed at the background, to eliminate shadows cast by the two flashes out front. In other cases, I might point the flash at the group to create a backlight.

When the subjects are having fun, I have more fun too.

It took a while to compose the group, arrange the lights, and capture the shots, so I felt a little rushed when it was time to photograph individuals. But the dancers themselves were fantastic to work with. Each knew what he or she wanted to do in front of the camera, so there was no time wasted with indecision about poses and movements. Unfortunately, I positioned the camera higher than I had when shooting Tori, and this contributed to some of the perspective problems I wrote about previously.

Speaking of perspective, my backdrop is nine feet wide. If Barbara leapt within inches of the backdrop, her feet would not extend beyond the edges - she does not have a nine-foot legspan. But she cannot run and leap that close to the backdrop, and it would cause lighting problems anyway. As all you geometry and perspective enthusiasts know, the farther from the background, the bigger the subject looks in relation to the background. In most shots, her feet extended beyond the backdrop. It took a few shots to get this, and I had to clone in the backdrop on one side of the image. I'm not telling which side.

The happiest discovery of the day came when I realized that I did not have to look through the viewfinder for these shots. Since the camera was in a fixed position and pre-focused, I could stand up straight and watch the dancers, rather than bend over the tripod-mounted camera with my face pressed against its back. Watching the dancers from a comfortable position allowed me to time my shutter releases far more accurately.

In some cases, I had to time my shots to AVOID the peak of the jump. Jeremiah's fist actually rose above the top of my ten-foot backdrop, so I caught him on the way up.

By the middle of the session, I was using two SB600s in umbrellas, camera-right of the dancer, an SB800 behind and camera-left as a backlight, and the pop-up flash as a low power fill light. For dark-haired dancers, I moved one of the SB600s to serve as an additional backlight. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, because I could not adjust it’s power independently, as the in-camera commander only controls two groups of lights.

All in all, I thought it was a very cheerful session, and I really enjoyed working with these young people (including the teacher!).  I hope they are pleased with the results. As you know, I am never satisfied, but I am happy to have achieved my goals of more dramatic lighting and more action shots. What will I do differently next time? That’s the topic of next week’s blog!

1 Comment

Filed under Camera Gear, Dance and Theater, Lighting

One response to “Leaping Beauty, Part 2: Solo to Group to Solo

  1. myrna

    enjoying this series of the young dancers … most important for me is seeing the face of the dancer as you have done with barbara and jeremiah … wondering if that is important to other folks too???

    so would like to see more of a profile of tori … that includes the one on the first post of these dancers

    when are you going to do some candids of dancers ?? you know, behind the scenes where they are pensive or tired or talking with each other … hah, those dega moments

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