Tag Archives: lighting

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 an Interior

While surfing the web, I came across an amazing real estate photographer based in Los Angeles, Mike Kelley.

His style has evolved a bit, but at the time I came across his work, he was using a form of light painting to create stunning pictures of interiors and architecture photographs.

colourful living room light painted with speedlights

I used a speedlhgt to give some accents of light in this colourful interior for a more pleasing look.

As a scientist, I value intellectual curiosity very much. As soon as I saw Mike stunning work, I wanted to try my hand at light painting interiors. I’m fortunate to know a good  interior designer, and I offered her free photos if she could give me access to one of the locations she designed.

colourful living room light painted with speedlights

It was not possible to capture all the elements of the room with just one shot, so I took another photograph from a slightly different angle to showcase the fireplace.

I had about one hour to set up and light paint a living room with my speed lights. I really do like the look of the light painted interiors and definitely plan to gain more experience with this kind of photography.

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.

Light Painting a Dancer on Calton Hill: Amy

Calton Hill is one of most popular locations in Edinburgh, because it offers a spectacular view of Princes street and the castle. It is where Amy wanted to get photographed and I was delighted to try out Calton Hill for light painting.

Light painting of dancer on Calton Hill with the city of Edinburgh as backdrop

Calton Hill offers a great view of the city of Edinburgh that I used as a backdrop.

One of the things I hadn’t anticipated is that some areas are closed to the public at night. In hindsight it makes perfect sense, for safety reasons. The problem was that I had a number of shots in mind that were now off limits.

Light painting of dancer on Calton Hill with the city of Edinburgh as backdrop

The big rocks provided a great combination of shapes and textures (elements of design), and I immediately knew I could use these as an interesting foreground.

While on some level it was annoying, I like to be thrown a challenge or two when shooting my personal projects. It is good to practice improvising because that is something that can happen on a job. And the more experience I have overcoming the hurdles the real world throws at me, the better prepared I am when it really counts.

Light painting of dancer on Calton Hill, Edinburgh, Scotland

Another location with lines, shapes and texture to use as a background. We tried some different poses, but this is my favourite.

The picture below is one I had I mind before the shoot and was the last set up for the night.

Light painting of dancer on Calton Hill, Edinburgh with the Balmoral Hotel as background.

The Balmoral Hotel is one of the landmark buildings on Princes Street, Edinburgh. Using a telephoto lens, I was able to compress the perspective and effectively use the building as a background.

Light Painting a Musician: Finlay Hetherington

I got to know Finlay though a mutual acquaintance and I was delighted he was interested in taking part in my light painting project.

Light painting of musician and education Finlay Hetherington in front of a graffiti wall with his trumpet

A very simple background can be made interesting by light painting. We both immediately noticed and liked the word ‘love’ on that part of the wall.

Urban settings can work very well for light painting, and I’m always on the lookout for new locations. Typically, I want as many elements of design as possible, i.e lines, shapes, textures and colours in my backgrounds.

Light painting of musician and education Finlay Hetherington in front of a graffiti wall with his trumpet

I like to try a number of variations for each backdrop.

A dancer introduced me to the the graffiti wall and the old building seen in the first three pictures. We never collaborated on a light painting project, but I always kept these locations in mind.

Light painting of musician and educator Finlay Hetherington with his trumpet in an urban location

This location was challenging to light paint because of the street lights nearby that forced me to use a faster shutter speed than I would have liked.

It was pretty chilly on the night of these light paintings, and Finlay’s trumpet was freezing cold and thus really hard to hold while standing still. But after some time warming up in the car, Finlay still had some energy for a final setup. So we headed out looking for a location near the sea. The lighthouse in Newhaven would have provided a great backdrop, but unfortunately, it was too late by then and the sky was just too dark. But I knew of a location nearby with lines, shapes and colours (mostly red) that could work just fine. The photograph below is the last light painting we did on the day, after which Finlay and I were just too cold to carry on.

Light painting of musician and educator Finlay Hetherington with his trumpet sitting on a flight of stairs in an urban location

Lines and shapes abound in this location. I only needed to paint my subject and the stairs because I used the ambient light for the background.

Light Painting Trees

In my light paintings of musicians and dancers, the scene to light paint is relatively small. I can easily go through the scene a number of times to make sure I haven’t forgotten to light paint any part of it. And a moderately powerful LED light is good enough to do the job. Note that I never light paint the whole scene in one go, but only one part at a time and put together all of the shots in Photoshop.

I really want to hone my technique and push myself to do more and more challenging light paintings.

The bigger the scene to light paint, the harder it gets. One of the main difficulties in light painting a large scene is to remember which part of the scene one has already light painted. It thus pays to develop a systematic approach.

For the scene below, not only did I used a more powerful light than in my people light paintings, but I had to figure out which path I would take in order to light paint the whole scene.

Light painting of trees

There is a wooded area pretty close to where I live. I had noticed these trees a while back, and I immediately knew I wanted to light paint them.

Light Painting Singer & Harpist Anna McLuckie

I had contacted Anna way back about doing a light painting shoot, but since she studies at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, we needed to meet during her holidays, when she would be back in her native Edinburgh.

The Voice UK 2014 contestant Anna McLuckie light painting in from the the organ at St Mary's cathedral, Edinburgh

Finding backgrounds with interesting colours and/or textures is one of the keys to a good photograph. Anna and I very quickly spotted that this part of the organ at St Mary’s cathedral, Edinburgh could be a great backdrop for a light painting.

I always ask people if there are locations where they would like to be photographed. The Stockbridge area means a lot to Anna, so we decided to meet up at the McKenzie bridge for a light painting session.

Outdoor photography in Scotland is challenging at the best of times, but especially during the Christmas season, when Anna and I collaborated on this light painting project. It didn’t take long for the rain and cold to totally ruin our Stockbridge photo shoot.

The Voice UK 2014 contestant Anna McLuckie with her harp light painting in from of the altar at St Mary's cathedral , Edinburgh

There was no shortage of great backgrounds at St Mary’s cathedral. With a limited amount of time to shoot, I had to use the altar for the second and last set up.

We were about to pack and go home when Anna asked me if we could do light painting indoors, to which I responded ‘hell yes’. In an interesting twist of fate it turns out that Anna’s father is Vice-Provost at St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh. So we got access to an incredible location for light painting. Ironically, the awful weather on that day in Stockbridge turned out to be a blessing in disguise. This is not the first time something of that nature happens to me. The moral of the story is that bad weather can actually turn out to be really good.

The Voice UK 2014 contestant Anna McLuckie light painting. She is standing with her harp in front of the altar at St Mary's cathedral, Edinburgh

We had tried a similar pose at McKenzie bridge, before the rain stopped us, and we tried it again with that superb background.

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.