Studio Dance Photography – The Art of Movement

My day job is boudoir photography but my great love is dance photography. I love the grace, power and movement and it helps my boudoir work as I understand how to pose for graceful movement. Recently I started to redo some studio dance photography.

One reason for this new set of photographs was because as I now have a new 3,000 square foot studio. I can now create images with so much more movement. And I can try out themes and concepts that were inaccessible with a small studio.

The shot above is with Raphaella McNamara who has danced from a very young age. She is also a brilliant model so understands lighting and camera placement. Our plan in this set was to explore movement – either with the dancer herself or the objects surrounding her.

My original plan for this set was going to be lots of gravity defying jumps. However, due to other circumstances we had to alter this so instead we created height and gravity with flowers.

Looks easy?

It was actually less easy than it looked. Raphy needed to go quickly en pointe and fling her flowers in the air and behind her. All the while keeping her head at a sharp angle and her arms and hands outstretched. Also, the flowers sometimes bunched together or quickly dropped to the ground.

This therefore meant that we had to try this shot many times just to get all the elements coming together. So main items that needed to be in the right shapes and form were:

  • Flowers – some up high whilst others going across the photograph
  • Hands and arms – outstretched and with form in the hands
  • Head – looking upwards with no strange facial expressions (it is amazing how your face changes expression when flinging stuff in the air)
  • Legs and feet – en pointe

Studio Lighting

Lighting was very simple for this studio dance shot. It is actually just two lights. First was to camera left and this was the main key light at an approximate 45 degree angle to the dancer. The second light was to camera right and this was just to highlight areas that were in too much shadow (our fill light).

Both these lights were covered with a softbox. A large softbox for the main light and a simple strip box for the fill. Lights themselves were Broncolor Unilite 1600s working from a Broncolor Scoro E battery pack.

Initially I also lit the white background but as I only have two Broncolor Unilite lights I had to use a couple of standard Bowen lights. The issue here, apart from different color balance, is that the Scoro pack is designed to be a very very fast flash which will easily freeze movement. Whereas the Bowens were not designed for this.

Therefore, even though the Broncolor lights were freezing the movement of the flowers we then had ghosting as the Bowens caught up. Taking away the Bowens meant that my background was not completely white anymore but now the flowers were frozen in mid air.

Post Work

Post production work on this shot was simple. Dodge and Burn was used on the flowers to bring out more definition in the petals. Skin was then slightly desaturated and a slight amount of color grading was added to give the photograph a very slight vintage feel as though it was shot with film.

Giving a photograph the feel that it has been shot with film is one thing I really enjoy doing. Film still seems to have more depth and just feels more real.

There are a number of other shots from this studio dance photography session which are being processed. Hopefully I will share these very soon.

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