Tag Archives: dance

Light Painting Dancers: Emiley and Katie

I wouldn’t want to do a photography session with dancers without some light painting. Having multiple people in the image is always a challenge. Sometimes you have to light paint one subject and ask them to move out of the frame before light painting the other one. It wasn’t the case this time, as I was able to get in the best position to light paint both dancers without the other one getting in the way.

Light painting two dancers in the Edinburgh College dance studio

It is easier for my subjects to stand still while I light paint them if they have something to hold on to or an object to lean on. Hence the bar and the chair.

Light painting two dancers in the Edinburgh College dance studio

In a portrait, I usually like the subject to make eye contact with the viewer, i.e look at the camera. In this case I wanted the image to look like the dancers didn’t know the camera was there.

I like the “dancer at the bar” theme and I’m always trying different compositions. It was no different this time.

Light painting a dancer in the Edinburgh College dance studio

These kinds of poses can be tricky to frame, depending on the layout of the studio. Nearly all dance studios have mirrors, which is wonderful as I love reflections.

In the second photo, I incorporated the curtains by changing my camera angle, for a slightly different look.

Light painting a dancer in the Edinburgh College dance studio

Somehow, I like this composition better than the previous one. What do you think?

Dance Photography: Emiley and Katie

Being visual artists, dancers definitely need to showcase their abilities with professional photography and/or video. Dance photography is definitely a niche I’d like to develop.  This is why I’ve been doing quite a few personal projects with student dancers.

Emiley and Katie gave me another opportunity to practice my dance photography skills. The shoot for this personal project took place at Edinburgh College, Granton campus, in one of their dance studios.

Jumping dancer in front of black background in a dance studio

For this kind of photograph, timing is everything. Since I used speedlights and their recycle time is quite long, I couldn’t use the motor drive on the camera. I had one try at nailing the shot for every jump.

I love to light dancers with two lights. The lights are placed symmetrically on each side of the dancer, at about 3 metres from the subject and slightly behind. I really like the look of this lighting setup. In the photograph below, you can see the two sets of shadows produced by my two speedlights.

Dancer posing in front of back background in a dance studio.

I chose a low angle for this photograph for a variety of reasons. The dancer’s legs appear slightly longer and I got a nice reflection in the floor.

When I talked to Emily about the kinds of pics we could take, she mentioned that she’s able to ‘jump on the floor’. I had no idea what this meant until she showed me. As you can see from the picture below, we got quite a dynamic photograph out of it.

Dancer acrobatics in front of a black background in a dance studio

Emiley ‘jumping on the floor’. It was tricky to get the timing right for this photograph, as the best picture is obtained while the dancer is in full motion.

I like to work with two dancers, as one of them can rest while I photograph the other. Katie had quite a few moves and jumps up her sleeve too, and the pics below are my two favourites.

Dancer acrobatics in front of a black background in a dance studio

A low camera angle (I was on the floor with Katie) was definitely required for this pose. The timing was pretty much like for jumps. Click the shutter at the moment the dancer movement stops.

Dancer jumping in front of a black background in a dance studio.

I always include the floor in jump shots, as it allows one to see how high the dancer can jump.

At the end of the session, I took photographs of Emiley and Katie  together. For these I changed the lighting setup to have a main light in an umbrella and a bare speedlight as a back light.

Two dancers holding hands in front of black background in a dance studio.

I just love this shot.

Two dancers in front of black background in a dance studio

This is my other favourite picture from the two dancers set up. I really like the shapes produced by the legs and bodies of the two young ladies.

I also did some light paintings of Emiley and Katie. I will present these in the next blog post.



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.



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.

Light Painting a Dancer: Jennifer

On Halloween, I had the chance to do some more light paintings. It was also my first time working with a professional dancer, Jennifer. We decided to try some urban settings as backgrounds, and more specifically wanted to explore the area around the Royal Mile. After a bit of scouting, we came upon a close just off the Royal Mile that seemed to offer a number of picture opportunities. All the pictures in this blog post were taken within about a 30m radius.

Light paintings typically stand out because the lighting is quite surreal and grabs our attention since we are not accustomed to seeing subjects in this kind of light. But there is another way to grab people’s attention, and that is by placing your subject in a totally unexpected environment. Like a dancer on a bunch of kegs at the back of a pub, as in the pic below. The light painting technique further adds to the surreal nature of the concept.

classical dancer on kegs of beer at the back of a pub on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland

This picture opportunity did not immediately present itself, as the location was somewhat hidden from view. But I’m very glad I decided to just ‘look around the corner’

The photo shoot took place on Halloween night, and we were fortunate to find some lit
carved pumpkin. The stairs also offered plenty of elements of design, such as lines, shapes and textures. I learned from Joe Baraban’s “Stretching Your Frame Of Mind” classes to look for these elements of design and incorporate them into my imagery.

Classical dancer on stairs with carved pumpkin, on Halloween night in Edinburgh, Scotland

It was Halloween night after all, and we jumped at the chance of a Halloween themed light painting

On the other side of the close, there was another location with similar elements of design, and it got my attention as well. I also liked the contrast between the urban setting and the classical dancer.

classica dancer in an urban setting off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland

I really liked the pipes, the texture of the walls and the autumn leaves on the ground. It is also not the kind of location where you’d expect to come across a classical dancer, a good opportunity in my mind for an interesting image.

And finally, one cannot be with a classical dancer and not get a photograph of her doing the splits. Since this was my first photo shoot with a dancer, I didn’t really have an idea of how to place my subject relative to the background, or what kind of background works best. And while I’m happy with the lighting on Jennifer, I think the background needs a bit more work. This photo shoot got me to think about other ideas. So, maybe next time…. I’ll keep you posted.

classical dancer doing the splits on a short wall off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland

I just had to get a classical dance pose out of Jennifer.