Dancer – A Shoot Anatomy

LironIt is not a big secret that dancers are one of my favorite subject matter. I was just so lucky to have the opportunity to shoot Liron Kichli, one of Israel’s dance scene rising stars a few Saturdays ago.

It is my believe that when working with such a talent as Liron, preparation can have a tremendous impact, so it is a good idea to have a detailed plan before meeting on location and watching her doing stretches.

On this post, I am going to cover some of the aspects and planning you should consider practicing in order to have a great and successful shooting day, from equipment, through location and flower.

The Plan

Well, you must have one. Like with any other thing in your life, you wanna know where you are going before you start running. For a shooting session that means having a pretty good idea about how you want your pictures to look like.

This plan will help you decide on the needed resources to get the shot done, including lighting gear, location, props and support.

Research

Face it, chances are your subject matter have been photographed before. It is recommended that you try and pick up as much as you can from other photographers experiences. We are living in an amazing era where research can be done without leaving your house, heck, your desk. And there are no excuses (other than being lazy) not to this research part.

If you know who is the best in field, you may wanna browse their website, you can also study about the history of your subject matter (photography wise, of course).

I am not saying that you should go ahead and copy their work, though that may be an interesting exercise, I am saying that you can get inspiration and education. When it comes to dance (or any other material, for that matter) it is good get educated about it, even a little bit, before approaching it photographically. Having some knowledge will give you something to discuss with your subject and (potentially) help you better understand each other.

If you have access to older shots of your subject it can be helpful to study them as well to get some idea what may work well for them and how can you highlight their good sides in your upcoming session.

research

Location

locationGetting the location right is a crucial element in pre-production. A location that suits your needs will make your life easier, while a location that does not has the potential of turning your life into a living hell. To properly scout for a good location you wanna know what you (or your client) want to get from the shoot.

For this session, I knew I wanted Liron to jump against a neutral background. Luckily for me there was a perfect wall right across the street from Galitz, where I teach photography.

locationThat was just too good to be true. Lots of space needed for the dancing action; high standing neutral gray wall; a jumping distance from school where Liron can comfortably change and it was private. Nice!

Here is another view of the place. The nice thing about this corner is that little step, which I thought will work well with Liron in her dancing outfit.

Equipment

If you know me, you know that I am not the tidiest guy around, but when it comes to gear, I am pretty anal.

Before each session I try and guess what equipment I will use, and I make sure it is on hand, clean, charged and ready to use.

Here is what I used for this shoot (the ones marked with a small arrow), and why I picked them up.

equipment

White 60″ umbrella – I knew I would have to light an entire body (Liron’s) with soft light, and a 60″ umbrella is definitely a soft light source. It is just a huge umbrella that bounces light all over the place and is great to use when photographing jumps.

The 60 incher is huger and needs lots of light, so I brought the Lastolite Triflash Sync which allows three strobes to light simultaneously.

What I love about the Triflash Sync is its ability to pop up to three flashes with one radio slave (or the internal optical slave). This makes it a cheap alternative in terms of the amount of radio slaves you need to buy. Of course the Triflash is not as cheap as the DIY alternative, but then the DIY version will require a receiver (or optical slave) per strobe

Working with a few strobes is really helpful when shooting action. Aside from the obvious “more light” thing, working with a few strobes allows you to dial the power down on each of the strobes. Remember, it is the strobes that freeze the action and the lower the strobe power is set, the shorter its flash duration.

So, for example, setting two strobes on half power will give the same light output as setting one strobe on full power, with a shorter light burst. And shorter light bursts means that you will have better freezing ability. Not to mention a shorter recycle time that helps the flow of the shoot.

Props

Sometimes what makes the shoot is a prop you brought along. The more the better (Of course, you don’t have to use them all, but I think it is better to have a prop in the car and not use it, than to have a prop you were dying for at home, under your bed).

I knew I wanted to go for the smoke effect so I got a bag of flower and a thing of baby powder.

OK, that was preparation and plans (without mentioning lens cleaning, memory cards formatting, battery loading and doing stretches), now it is going out and shooting time.

The Pictures

Dancer - A Shoot Anatomy

The 60 incher on camera right with two strobes provides soft and flattering light. Both strobes were on low power setting to freeze the action.

Dancer - A Shoot Anatomy

Hey, remember that step? Well, this is how it looks like with Liron pulling a dancer casual stand next to it. It is lit with Westcott’s Big Mama 50″ softbox on camera right. I think it is the best of this session, don’t you?

Dancer - A Shoot Anatomy

Here is the one with the baby powder and flower. Lit in the same way as the jump shot.

Thanks to Hezi Regev and Guy Prives for support

About The Author

This post is by Tomer Jacobson, a freelance on location photographer based in Israel. You can see more of his work here. The post above is a sample from his upcoming book.