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Outdoor photo session with a dancer – Ella

An additional challenge when photographing dancers in movement, is the exact timing. That fleeting pose in mid-air needs to be captured at the exact moment when their feet, hands and the entire body is positioned in ideal way. Some advice about this was given in a previous article on photographing dancers – tips on photographing dancers and ballerinas – but much of it relies on constantly conferring with the dancer, who will know exactly what they want.

Ella is a dancer, with a delightfully confident personality – especially so for someone who is only 12 years old. Ella and her mom were visiting New York for a dance contest, and at the same time, wanted photos of Ella with New York as the setting. The Brooklyn Waterfront immediately came to mind – lots of space to shoot in (which is rare in Manhattan), and there is the magnificent view of the Manhattan Skyline.

To make the most of the photo session, we steadily worked according to a plan I had as we roamed around the Waterfront area. I didn’t want the photo session to feel rushed, but there also had to be a certain efficiency.

In terms of the photography, there were certain techniques that just made sense:

 

Lighting: 

I had to work with Ella’s schedule, so we had a time slot of 9am – 12pm on this semi-cloudy day. With that, the light changed as the clouds slowly moved in and out. To punch up the overcast light, or to help balance the harder sunlight, I relied on my workhorse lighting setup:  Profoto B1 TTL flash  (B&H / Amazon), with a 36″ octabox – the the Westcott Rapid Box 36 XL (B&H / Amazon). I like how the octabox collapses and sets up quickly. And of course, the Profoto B1 flash has enough juice to give me high-speed flash sync in bright light, while using a softbox. A speedlight just can’t match that.

Of course, I positioned the light in the direction that Ella wanted to do her movement. But I also had to be cognizant of the light when the sun broke through. Lighting is seldom a static decision when working on location.

The camera settings for the photos on the boardwalk ranged around:  1/1250 @ f/3.5 @ 100 ISO, depending on the cloud cover or the sun.

 

Composition: 

For the photos on the dock here, I mostly worked with the 70-200mm lens, at 200mm (or thereabouts), to really compress the perspective. For these long shots, I also lay down on the boardwalk so that I reduced the amount of “floor” in the photo, accentuating more of the background. It is important to note that I mostly shot these by zooming to 200mm, and then step back to find my composition.
–  Nikon D810 with the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II

For the other images shown here, where we used more of the scene to show context, I used a 24-70mm lens.
–  Nikon D5  with the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E VR

 

Posing:

As mentioned at the start of the article, the decision on the movement and posing was up to Ella and her mom. Then I had to concentrate on the timing – not to trip the shot too late or too early. I would pre-focus on a spot, and then lock the focus. The timing is too crucial to wait for the camera to first respond by focusing.

In a sense the posing was a collaboration between Ella and myself, depending on the location and the lighting … and what she needed photographs of, with the actual pose depending on her.

 

 


 

 


 

Camera settings and photo gear used

  • 1/1250 @ f/3.5 @ 100 ISO, depending on the cloud cover or the sun.

 

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