Category Archives: Dance

Dance Photography at Dance for All: Kirsty

A while back, I met with Kirsty for a dance photo shoot at Dance for All, on St Stephen Street in Edinburgh. The main studio was a little different from what I was used to as it was surrounded by mirrors and windows. Mirrors are a real challenge when lighting a subject, and also limit your shooting angles since you usually don’t want the photographer to appear in the shot.

Dancer at Dance for All, Edinburgh, lit from both sides and slightly behind

I asked Kirsty to look in the direction of one of the lights, in order to avoid nasty shadows on her face. I loved the lights in the background and I think they really add to the composition of this image.

In the photograph above, I deliberately underexposed the background to hide the clutter in the studio. I had two speed lights on the left and right of Kirsty, slightly behind. This is one of my favourite lighting set ups.

Light painting of dancer in front of mirror at Dance for All, Edinburgh

I chose to warm the colours in the photograph to complement Kirsty’s top and shoes and provide good colour contrast with her blue shorts.

As the studio could be made dark enough, I couldn’t resist doing some light paintings as well. I first tried a variation of my ‘lone dancer and the mirror’ image, with Kristy turning her back on the mirror rather than facing it. I added a bit of ‘grit’ in Photoshop and I’m quite pleased with the final result.

Light painting a dancer on a chair, facing away from the camera. Picture taken a Dance for All, Edinburgh

I really like this pose, but next time I’ll make sure one can see the dancer’s hands

I had only done our last set-up once before, and I therefore was looking forward to getting some more practice. In hindsight, I should have asked Kirsty to wear something more colourful, as the black clothing doesn’t provide enough separation from the black background, in my opinion.

 

Light Painting Dancers Chanelle and Charmagne

I’ve been light painting dancers for some time now, and I believe I have honed my technique for a few set-ups, as in the ‘lone dancer at the bar’ one you can see below.

Light painting dancer at the bar in front of mirror. Dance Base, Edinburgh

I really like this set up and most dancers like it too. The reflection in the mirror adds visual tension to the image.

Light painting dancer at the bar in front of mirror. Dance Base, Edinburgh

The challenging bit of doing such a light painting is getting the back light (highlight rim on the hair) right. You’ll definitely know what I’m talking about if you try it.

The light painting technique gives my images a distinct look that helps the photographs stand out amongst the deluge of pictures we are exposed to every day. I can therefore give my clients an edge in getting noticed.

I’m always looking to expand my light painting repertoire. It is quite the obvious step to experiment with light painting two people instead of one.

Light painting two dancers at the bar in front of mirror. Dance Base, Edinburgh

Eventually, I figured that the best way to light paint this set up was to first light paint Chanelle (in front), then ask her to move away so I could light paint Charmagne (at the back)

Usually, I ask my subjects to stand against something, sit on a chair or hold on to something firm, as it helps them stand still while I light paint them. During that light painting session, we experimented with removing any of these ‘helpers’ to see what happens. The light painting session was nearing its end and I knew I already had some good shots. Under these circumstances I like to try something I’ve not done before, to see what happens. Chanelle and Charmagne held hands as they stood away from any walls or chairs.

Light painting two dancers standing  in the middle of the Dance Base studio while holding hands

I left the pose up to the dancers as it is their domain of expertise, while I concentrated on the light painting.

As could be expected, without anything to lean on, both subjects moved more during the light painting than what I’m used to. But thanks to the uniform dark background, it was relatively straightforward to fix this problem in Photoshop. The next step is for me to figure out how to do that with a more detailed backdrop. I look forward to trying this out.

 

 

Dance Photography: Shadow Dancers

The word photography has greek roots and means ‘drawing with light’. But shadows can be your best friend. In fact, it is the combination of light and shadows that creates compelling imagery.

dancer and shadow on a light coloured wall at Dance Base, Edinburgh

This is one of my two favourite images from this set-up. I really like the fact the shadow comes really close to the left edge of the frame, as it creates visual tension.

On this dance photography shoot with Charmagne and Chanelle, I decided to explore the use of shadows. With a light coloured wall, it is possible to project a distinct shadow of the dancer.

dancer and shadow on a light coloured wall at Dance Base, Edinburgh

In this image the dancer’s body shape is very similar to the one in the previous photograph, yet I don’t think this image is as strong. I believe it is because of the different spatial relationship between the dancer and her shadow.

Dancers can create very photogenic shapes with their bodies. The combination of the dancer and her shadow, as a form of visual echo, creates a more three dimensional feel to the photographs.

dancer and shadow on a light coloured wall at Dance Base, Edinburgh

Like in the first photograph of Charmagne, at the top of this blog post, this image of Chanelle has her shadow close to the left edge of the frame. It is probably no coincidence that this is the other of my two favourite pictures from this set-up.

I wish we had more time to explore this set-up, because I feel I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible. Hopefully, I’ll get the chance sometime soon.

dancer and shadow on a light coloured wall at Dance Base, Edinburgh

The shape of Chanelle’s body is very appealing from the graphic standpoint. The triangle shape formed by the legs and the implied triangle formed by the arms. But somehow, the combination of that shape and her shadow isn’t quite as compelling as in the previous photograph.

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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.