Category Archives: Dance

Light Painting a Dancer in Stockbridge: Juan

About a year ago, I had plans to do a light painting session in Stockbridge, Edinburgh, with singer/songwriter Anna McLuckie. Unfortunately  we had to switch to an indoor location due to very poor weather. In a way it was a blessing because the pictures turned out great (you can see them here). But it was also a shame because I really liked the location we had picked for the shoot, McKenzie bridge.

Light painting of dancer framed with one arch of McKenzie bridge, in Stockbridge, Edinburgh

Framing within a frame is a favourite composition tools of mine. I couldn’t resist framing my model with one of the arches of McKenzie bridge.

Interestingly, dancer  Juan Barton had expressed interest in my personal light painting project and in Stockbridge as a potential location for the shoot. McKenzie bridge immediately came to my mind and we quickly agreed on the location.

Light painting of male dancer wearing a suit and framed with one arch of McKenzie bridge, in Stockbridge, Edinburgh

I really liked the metal gate and I wanted to reveal it by putting my subject on the right side of the frame.

Because of my previous attempt at shooting there, I already had a number of ideas for photographs, so we got started right away. I really liked this arch and the metal gate, not only for the elements of design they presented but also for the light painting possibilities. We did three poses before moving on to the next set up.

Light painting of male dancer wearing a suit and framed with one arch of McKenzie bridge, in Stockbridge, Edinburgh

The first two poses above would not signal to you than Juan is actually a dancer. So for the last pose with this set up, I asked Juan to assume a more dancer-like stance.

I always ask my subjects to bring a variety of clothes, but typically leave the precise wardrobe choice up to them, although I do stress that I like colourful outfits.  When Juan mentioned he had brought a set of hot pants and a red boa, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect!

Light painting of dancer wearing jeans hot pants and a red boa at McKenzie bridge, Stockbridge, Edinburgh

It was a good thing the location was relatively secluded, as we would have likely drawn a lot of attention given Juan’s outfit and the rather chilly weather.

Since the shoot took place in November, I had to do these last two light paintings quite fast as to not end up with a frozen dancer!

Light painting of dancer wearing jeans hot pants and a red boa at McKenzie bridge, Stockbridge, Edinburgh

I prefer the first pic of this series, but Juan chose this one as his Facebook banner!

Light Painting a Dancer: Kenna

In Edinburgh, the Royal Mile is the street connecting Edinburgh castle to the Palace of Holyrood, the official residence of the Queen in Scotland. Photographically speaking, the Royal Mile and the areas surrounding it offer great opportunities.

light painting of model with brick columns, with blue background

Lines, shapes and texture. Some of the elements of design I look for. Adding colour with creative use of white balance (tungsten) to add colour contrast with Kenna’s purple top.

Kenna and I walked about quite a bit to scout the areas around the Royal Mile. Then I spotted a set of columns near St Giles Cathedral. Lines, shapes and textures aplenty, so I knew there was a photograph there. Because of Kenna’s purple top, I decided to use the tungsten white balance to give the stones a definite blue cast, to provide good colour contrast.

Light painting of model in front of St Giles cathedral on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland

The entrance of St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile is another location replete with photo opportunities.

We didn’t have to move far for the next set up. The stairs to the entrance of St Giles Cathedral is a location I spotted way back then as I was taking an online photography course.

Light painting of model in front of St Giles cathedral on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland

The vertical composition better showcases (in my opinion) the lines and shapes of the background.

As Bryan Peterson, a photographer I really admire, is fond of saying: “What is the best time to take a vertical photograph? Right after you take the horizontal”.

Light painting of model in a close by  the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland

I really like the urban feel of this building, with the pipes and textured walls.

One of the great lessons I learned from top class photographer is to “work your subject”. Usually, I have some limited time at a given location with my subject, and I therefore like to revisit locations I have used before. That give me the opportunity to work my subject some more. Since I learn new things in between visits, that gives me the opportunity to improve upon the photographs previously taken at that location.

Light painting of model in a close by  the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland

I prefer this shot over the previous because of i) the pose and ii) the sign over the door is better “light painted”

I had used the building in the above photograph in a shoot with another dancer, Jennifer. I wanted to try a different composition and new poses with Kenna. The picture above is my second favourite photo from the shoot. My favourite picture from the day is the first picture in this post.

Light Painting a Dancer in Leith: Lucy

Leith is a district to the north of Edinburgh, and the area is replete with photographic opportunities. In particular, the surroundings of the port of Leith, the largest deep water port in Scotland, provide a number of good locations for photo shoots.

Light painting of dancer, standing, with a blue steel bridge in Leith, Edinburgh

We started with a simple pose. I had to move in and around the bridge to light paint her face and then her body and the background.

I had noticed ‘the blue bridge in Leith’ a while back, but hadn’t had an opportunity to shoot there until I met Lucy, a dancer who happens to live nearby. I like the colour (blue is my favourite colour), lines, shapes and textures of this location. I’m sure I’ll go back for other shoots.

Light painting of dancer, sitting down, with a blue steel bridge in Leith, Edinburgh

I try, as much as possible, to shoot both vertical and horizontal photographs. I asked Lucy to give me an interesting pose I could frame horizontally.

I had asked Lucy to wear colourful clothes, and I was delighted to see her outfit. And in hindsight, her hair colour provides a nice contrast with the blue background.

Light painting of dancer, sitting down, with a blue steel bridge in Leith, Edinburgh

I was worried that in the previous photo, Lucy’s left hand would be a bit too prominent in the frame and that the camera hadn’t properly focussed on her face. So we did another light painting with this set up and a slightly different pose.

Dancers are very comfortable with their body, so I let Lucy try a number of poses. Apart from the first photo above, it was clear to me I would not have gotten the same type of photographs with a model rather than a dancer.

Light painting of dancer, standing and bending backwards, with a blue steel bridge in Leith, Edinburgh

I like to start the light painting session with poses I know the dancer can hold for some time without moving. Once I have a couple of shots ‘in the bag’, I like to try more demanding poses. Lucy did an incredible job standing still during the whole shoot.

Finally, on our way to the bridge we noticed the bronze statue and I knew there was a photograph there. As we walked back we made a quick stop for one last picture.

Light painting a dancer in Leith, Edinburgh next to a statue.

In this photograph, I used the ambient light for the background and only light painted Lucy, the statue and the bench.

Dance Action Photography – Kaja and Tom

While I love light painting dancers, it’s not possible to capture any kind of dance action using this technique. For my session with Kaja and Tom, I had also brought some speed lights since I wanted to have a go at capturing some dance action shots as well.

Female dancer Kaja Jurkowska jumping. Profile picture

It was key to press the shutter when Kaja was at the very top of her jump. Needless to say, it took a few tries.

Getting the timing right is essential for these kinds of pictures, and it’s not as easy as it sounds. Just a fraction of a second off, and the dancer’s pose can look absolutely horrible. Fortunately, Kaja and Tom were patient with me.

Female dancer Kaja Jurkowska jumping. Frontal picture.

For this series of jump shots, I lit Kaja with two bare speed lights, slightly behind her on either side.

I had asked the dancers before the shoot to send me some dance photographs they liked, so I could think ahead of time about how to best light the pictures.

Female dancer Kaja Jurkowska jumping. Profile photograph.

I could have taken many more pictures, but that’s because it wasn’t as tiring for me as it was for the dancers. So this was our last jump set-up.

I’m quite happy with the above pictures of Kaja. Not too bad for a first go at jump shots.

Male dancer Tom Wohlfahrt, profile picture of whole body.

The lighting set-up nicely contours the body of the dancer, creating a nice contrast from the background.

The shaft of light on the background really adds to the photos, and I must say this is not something that I had planned before the shoot. I just noticed it when we were in the dance studio. It’s always a good idea to keep an open mind during the shoot, and take a close look at the location. Serendipity often plays an important role.

Male and female dancer in action. Vertical photo.

I let the dancers choose a pose, and fired a few quick frames.

And finally, I wanted some pictures of the two dancers together. We avoided jump shots, as the more people in the photograph, the harder it is to get one that is spot on, i.e where the two dancers are perfectly coordinated and the photographer gets his timing right.

Male and female dancers in action. Horizontal photograph

This is my favourite photograph of the two dancers together.

For this set-up, I added a speed light in an umbrella camera right to light the dancers from the front.

Light Painting Dancers Kaja and Tom

Thus far, I’ve done quite a few light painting sessions with a single subject, and the natural next step is of course to light paint multiple people in a single image.

Light painting of dancers Kaja and Tom at Edinburgh College, Granton

I didn’t want to have the dancers just standing, and since there were some black chairs around, I thought it would be a good idea to use them.

I was fortunate to collaborate on this project with two talented dance artists, Kaja and Tom. We shot at the dance studios of Edinburgh College in Granton.

I was fortunate to collaborate on this project with two talented dance artists, Kaja and Tom. We shot at the dance studios of Edinburgh College in Granton.

When I started light painting, I noticed that I was framing my images horizontally almost all of the time. Now I like to have both horizontal and vertical compositions.

Since there was a mirrored wall behind me, Kaja and Tom could evaluate their pose and had pretty much free reign in doing so. I only intervened when I felt it might be too difficult, even for skilled dancers, to hold the pose long enough for me to light paint them.

Light painting of dancers Kaja and Tom at Edinburgh College, Granton

I basically gave Kaja and Tom free reign when it came to poses. This is not one I would have thought of.

In light painting, it is important to think ahead of time in which order you are going to light paint the scene. With two people it is best to work on one of the models and then the second one, rather than moving back and forth between the two. We worked on a number of set ups, but these are my favourites from the shoot.

Light painting of dancers Kaja and Tom at Edinburgh College, Granton

I was very much doubting that Tom could hold his leg still long enough for me to light paint him. But since I knew I already had some good pics, I thought why not, let’s see what happens. Luckily for me, Tom did a superb job in holding the pose and proved me wrong.

Light Painting A Dancer – Meaghan

As a photographer, you sometimes have to improvise in a major way. Meaghan and I hired a particular studio at Dance Base Edinburgh because of a really interesting piece of art on one of the walls I intended to use as background. But when we entered the studio, that piece of art was no longer there. It was difficult for me to conceal my bitter disappointment, but there was nothing I could do but try to make the session a success after all.

Light painting of a dancer and her reflection in a mirror at dance Base Edinburgh

It is not straightforward to light paint reflections, but when it works, I love the results.

Since the studio also had a mirrored wall, I decided to start with a couple of set ups involving Meaghan and her reflection. I knew from a previous light painting session with Karen that I could get some nice pics out it. And it gave me some time to think about what to do next.

Light painting of dancer in front of wooden doors at Dance Base Edinburgh

When people ask me what they should wear, I always answer ‘something colourful’! I give top marks to Meaghan for the outfit. Really works well with the background.

When I noticed the wood texture and the two windows, I knew I had my next background. We tried a number of poses and those are my favourites. Meaghan did an incredible job of standing still while I light painted her.

Light painting of dancer in front of wooden doors at Dance Bas Edinburgh

When light painting, it doesn’t take much of a background to add interest to the photo. That’s one of the things I love about light painting.

By then I felt I had some nice pics and I could therefore afford to experiment a little bit. I had seen some pictures of people posing in a chair like Meaghan does in the photograph below, and I wanted to see what this kind of pose looks like when the subject is light painted.

Light painting of dancer sitting down on a chair at Dance Base studios, Edinburgh

One of the benefits of having the subject sitting down on a chair is that it makes it easier for the person you are light painting to stand still.

We also tried a number of poses with Meaghan down on the floor. I didn’t really care for most of them, but this one below was a really nice surprise to me. I quite like it. Let me know in the comments which photograph in this blog post is your favourite.

Light painting of dancer with spot light effect at Dance Base studios, Edinburgh

Going for a spotlight effect, with the light coming down. But I always light the face using butterfly lighting, for a more flattering look.

Light Painting A Dancer – Karen

I have been looking to work with dancers for a while. I know I  enjoy working with musicians, because I can relate to the fact that they really are into their work. It is their passion. And I imagined dancers would be similar in that respect.

Since at that time of year the weather in Scotland is quite wet and cold, Karen and I decided to do the shoot indoors, at Shapes Fitness Studios in Edinburgh. The location is rather barren, save for a mirrored wall. I therefore decided that I would play with reflections of Karen in the mirror. And since light painting requires the subject to remain as still as possible, we started with Karen sitting on the floor to make it as easy as possible on ourselves.

Dancer and choreographer Karen Mc Arthur and her reflection at Shapes Fitness Studios, Edinburgh

I did not expect the background windows to show up as clearly during the four second exposures I used to light paint Karen. As it turns out, that was a really pleasant surprise! The street lights gave the windows an orange glow, which I felt didn’t suit the mood and colour scheme of the photograph, so I changed that colour to blue in post.

Having a large mirror in the frame is quite tricky when light painting, because I needed both Karen and her reflection to come out nicely but I cannot see through the camera when I’m close to the model light painting with my LED light. So I needed to do a few test runs to see where to light from in order to avoid nasty reflections in the mirror.

Dancer and fitness instructor Karen McArthur at Shapes Fitness Studios, Edinburgh

Same location, different pose and camera angle

I also decided to play with coloured gels, as a bit of an experiment. In the end, I’m quite satisfied with the results and especially with the experience gained working on this project.

Dancer Karen McArthur leaning against a mirrored wall at Shapes Fitness Studios, Edinburgh

At the end of the shoot, I had Karen standing. We needed to find a clean bit of the mirror for her to lean on. Traces on the mirror would show up in the pictures when back lighting the scene, totally ruining the photograph.