My great love is dance photography. I am passionate about capturing the grace, power and movement of dancers. It also helps me with my day job, boudoir photography! Translating the graceful movement and poses of dancers is phenomenally useful for unlocking people’s potential in their boudoir shoot.
I thought it might be a useful insight behind the scenes to give you a view on one of my dance shoots, and I’m super excited because I’ve recently started to redo some of my previous studio dance photography.
The shot I’ve chosen to dissect for you in this post is of Raphaella McNamara. She has danced from a very young age and is also an excellent model. She understands camera and lighting placement and is a joy to work with. The brief for this shoot was to explore movement. We did this both with Raphy herself and objects surrounding her.
The original plan was to include lots of gravity-defying leaps and jumps. We had to park this as Raphy was three months pregnant at the time, so not really a good idea! Instead, we decided to add height and gravity using flowers.
This shot wasn’t as easy as it looks. In order to capture the movement, we had to move quickly. Raphy needed to go (and stay!) en pointe and fling her flowers in the air behind her. At the same time, she had to keep her head at a sharp angle and her arms and hands outstretched.
To really nail this shot, we had to try it many times to get all of the elements to come together. Here’s a breakdown of our key focus areas:
As mentioned above, the plan was to create height. At the same time, we didn’t want to create two separate images – one of the falling flowers and one of Raphy, detached below. To keep the entire image in harmony, we needed some of the flowers to fall across the image. Think of it a bit like a frame, or a path, which leads your eye through the image.
Hands and Arms
It was important to me to maintain form in the hands and arms; to show them outstretched and active in the throwing of the flowers. Again, this helps connect the two elements of the shot – showing the relationship between the action and its cause. If the hands had been limp, the flowers would look like they had either been thrown by someone else, or even worse, added later in the editing process.
I wanted Raphy’s head to be looking upwards and for her to maintain a neutral facial expression. Think about it, whenever you have more than one thing to concentrate on, you sort of forget what’s happening to your face – the last thing I wanted was a perfect shot of every element in the photograph but with a grimace or a tongue poking out in concentration! In the shot above, you can see that Raphy has managed to create an active but peaceful pose with her head and face, which is exactly what we were going for.
Legs and Feet
I wanted these to be en pointe, again continuing the theme of control and almost serene tension flowing through the rest of the image. It takes a lot of strength to go en pointe and body alignment and technique are key – Raphy had a lot to think about and coordinate in a short space of time.
The Technical Bits: Lighting
My area of responsibility for the shoot was getting the lighting right and taking the actual photograph! Here’s a quick run through of the lighting set up I used:
I kept the lighting simple on this dance shoot, using just two lights. The main key light was to camera left at an approximate 45 degree angle to the dancer. The second light was used to highlight areas in too much shadow, this was to camera right. This was our fill light.
Each light was covered with a softbox. I used a large softbox for the main light and a simple strip box for the fill. If you really want to get into the detail, I used the Broncolor Unilite 1600s with a Broncolor Scoro E battery pack.
I had initially set up with additional lights on the white background. I had to use two standard Bowen lights for this as I only have two Broncolor Unilite lights in my studio. We found that as well as the Bowen lights creating a difference in colour balance, we had a ghosting issue on the flowers. This was because the Scoro pack is designed to have a very very fast flash, which easily freezes movement. The Bowen lights are slower and so they were playing catch up with the Scoro. Taking away the Bowen lights resolved our ghosting issue but meant that our background wasn’t completely white anymore. We decided that catching the effect of the frozen flowers in mid-air won out over the cleaner background.
The post-production work on this shot was simple. I used Dodge and Burn on the flowers to bring out more definition in the petals. The skin was then slightly desaturated and a slight amount of colour grading was added. I find this gives the photograph a very slight vintage feel, as though it was shot on film.
I particularly enjoy giving photographs that “real film” feel. Film still seems to have more depth and feels more tangible.
I am processing a number of other images from this studio dance photography session; hopefully, I will share these very soon! But you can see a couple of others here (there are just fewer flowers in these shots).
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