One of the many types of people photography that I love to do is anything involving dance. I love the motion, the grace, and the positions dancers are capable of. I try whenever I can to do something a little different with dancers. Something where they are out of their normal dance studio surroundings. There are so many different things you can do. One thing that can be a lot of fun and really make your dance images stand out is to photograph dancers along with some form of flying powder. Dance is so dynamic and adding flour, talcum powder, powdered paints, water and things like that can really add to an image and make it really vibrant.
I’ve done these sort of dance images a number of times and have used various powders. My favorite is plain old flour because you can buy so much of it so cheaply. Talcum powder just seems too fine and is more expensive. Tempera paints are a lot of fun and add a lot of color to your images. Just be aware that these powdered paints can get all over and into everything and can be hard to remove. Some of my lights are still covered with yellow from years ago! For any images using powders you will want a lot of room and be in a space that you are not afraid of getting covered with the powder. Clean up can be a nightmare! Outside in the dark would be a good option if it’s not windy if you can find a place.
These sorts of images are not very difficult to do (except for the cleanup!) I will describe what I have found to work for me and talk about one of my more recent powder images, Dark Angel. This is a concept I had tried years before but was unable to get the wings to shape properly and was more fortunate a couple weeks ago when I tried again.
There are a number of ways these types of images can be done and they can even be accomplished without powder at all by using Photoshop brushes. But, in this case we used flour and a seamless black background in a big dance studio which would give us plenty of room for the flour to fly and space for us to clean up.
I used 3 lights for this shot, a key light in front of the dancer and two speed lights, which we gridded, on either side and behind the dancer. The key light was a Phottix Indra 500 in a 42 inch gridded octobox and the speed lights had Magmod grids on them to focus the backlights on the dancer and to not have the light spill all over the set and into my lens. We were on location and not in our studio this day so I went the easy route with this mobile setup instead of packing our studio lights.
Camera Settings and its Motivation
I like the look of the backlight coming through the powder but with the flour being so white, you could easily just use a light in front of the subject and I think everything would still be lit nicely. I set my shutter speed at 1/250, my ISO was at 800, and my f stop was at f8. My shutter sync speed is 1/250 so I went with that. In some cases high speed sync might be useful depending upon how much ambient light is coming into your photo. The higher sync speed could be useful to prevent any motion blur in your dancer. With this particular image though, she would not be moving too much and I had no ambient light so I just stayed with 1/250. I went with f8 to have everything sharp. I bumped my iso up to 800 to help the speedlights keep up at f8. I wanted to keep the flash duration of all strobes short to freeze any motion while being careful not to let any ambient light into the exposure. A test shot without the strobes firing confirmed this.
It then just became matter of timing the shot (not always easy). I had my dancer pop up onto her toes and fairly quickly move her hands, which were filled with flour, from her middle,on top of her chest out to her side. The tricky part to get the wings forming properly was to get the flour coming out of her hands at a steady rate and it took a few tries to figure out how to do this. Once we figured that out it was just a matter of doing a few shots and getting the timing right. When it was all done the image was pretty much just as you see it here, the wings were shaped almost perfectly by our dancer’s timed flour release.
Powder images are a great technique to explore and works great with dancers and with any other kind of concept that has motion in it. Or, you can have your subject remain still and throw powders around on the set. It’s a lot of fun to experiment with. Go buy a sack of flour and have some fun with it. Some of the images you will get with subjects leaping about with flour and tossing their hair, arms, and legs can be really eye catching! Have fun with it!
About The Author
Jay Philbrick is half of a Philbrick Photography – a husband and wife wedding photography team operating out of North Conway, New Hampshire. You can learn more about some of what they do on an interview we ran with Jay. You can see more of their work on the philbrickphoto website and get in touch with them via Facebook and Instagram.