Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back

While preparing to photograph the Nordhoff High School Dance Program’s graduating seniors, I studied last year’s blog entries to ensure I got the full benefit of experience.

Per my notes, I was more careful about the size of the background and position of the camera. I corrected what I had done wrong, but, unfortunately, neglected to study what I had done right.

Before I explain that oversight, let me point out that the most obvious difference between the 2011 and 2012 images is the background. The teacher thought we should try white this year. No problem, and certainly not what bothers me about the new images.

The background is NOT the big difference between this image from 2011 and the one at the top of the post, from 2012.

No, the flaw in this year’s images has to do with the direction and quality of light. Last year I used hard light from the left and softer light from the right, with minimal fill, for very dramatic and dimensional images. This year, I went with soft light from left, right, and center and got very bland results. I’m struck by how the dramatic, directional hard light renders the dancers’ musculature and brings so much life to the images.

This image is lit by soft light from left, right and front. Sure, the action is frozen, but there's no drama. Compare to the image below.

Hard light from the left, softer light from the right, but almost NO fill from the front. And a much better photograph, in my opinion.

Just as the space between notes is essential to music, shadows are essential to photography. I don’t know what got into my head during the session, but something made me afraid to increase the lighting contrast ratio. There’s no excuse, either, because the monitor on the back of the camera showed me exactly what I was doing.

So, this year I created some documents, whereas last year I made some photographs. If the teacher can schedule a reshoot, I’ll jump at the opportunity. Otherwise, I sure hope I read this next year.

Technical achievements, like freezing action, do not make a picture a photograph.

Light, shadow, and composition go a long way toward making a picture a photograph.

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Filed under Composition, Dance and Theater, Lighting

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