photo session: urban ballerina – Oktavia

photo session: urban ballerina – Oktavia

Oktavia is the stunning model on the cover of my book on off-camera flash. We’ve intended to do another photo shoot ever since then, but busy schedules kept us from that until recently. A theme that Oktavia wanted to explore, was that of the Urban Ballerina. The idea with the urban ballerina is the contextual dissonance of having a graceful dancer in the middle of some urban setting. There’s no real meaning to it other than contrasting art & beauty against the harsher urban setting.

With this grand view of the GW bridge leading in to Manhattan, we had Oktavia pose on this narrow ledge. But we had to forego ballerina shoes since the ledge was just too precarious to have someone balance on the tips of her toes right there.

We were working in a shaded area compared to the background, so I had to use off-camera flash to light her. The lighting setup was simple. A speedlight in a softbox to the camera left, and a bare speedlight to the right. I flagged the speedlight on the right with a black foamie thing to minimize lens flare.

At the distance I placed the speedlights, I had both of them set to full manual output. This gave me:
1/250 @ f8 @ 200 ISO

Ideally, I would’ve liked more light on her from the softbox, since the background is slightly brighter than I would’ve liked. A larger lighting setup like a Profoto kit would’ve been better, or perhaps a dual (or even triple) speedlight setup with a softbox on camera left.

The Urban Ballerina is definitely a theme with an interesting premise, and one I’d like to explore more in future.

Post-processing was done with layered actions via the RadLab filters / actions palette. I used this Photoshop plugin recently with the vintage photo session as well.

You can order the RadLab or the Totally Rad action sets via this affiliate link

other articles featuring Oktavia:
– Photoshop tips – retouching for portraits
– sequence of photos – posing a model

Equipment used with this photo session:

Nikon D3;  Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 AF-S (B&H)
(2x) Nikon SB-910 Speedlight controlled by PocketWizard FlexTT5 Transceiver & AC3 Controller
or alternately, (2x) Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite controlled by Canon ST-E3 Transmitter
Lastolite EZYBOX Softbox Kit (24″x24″) (B&H)
black foamie thing
(2x) Manfrotto 1004BAC light-stand (B&H)

8 Comments, Add Your Own

  1. 1edy says

    Hello Neil,
    very good! this article very interesting ..
    What are the flash settings ev …
    Did you use manual flash?
    Thanks good job

  2. 3Ven says


    Have you tried the new auto “Hypersync” from Pocketwizard for their tt5 and tt1’s? Supposed to go above camera sync speed with full flash power. Just wondering how it might have worked in this session. I know you’ve blogged about the Pocketwizards so figured you might have tried them with the Hypersync enabled.


  3. 5Bobby says

    Ven, hyperSync only gets you a stop on crop cameras. On FF, good luck getting 1/3 stop. There is no subsitute for raw flash power.

  4. 6Ven says


    Pocketwizard site tells a different story. Haven’t had a chance to check it out and haven’t really seen too much on the web. Dave Black’s photo on the Pocketwizard site tells the story … supposedly done with Hypersync and not High Speed Sync… very different approach.

  5. 8Dany says

    Hi Neil, great spot and subject !

    I wanted to come tu your workshop in Dublin, but finally could not attent it :( …
    Tomorrow I have a shoot session was too short …

    I have one litle suggestion, in your site and 2 great books that I purchased you give some informations about the shot and the setting, like FEC, apperture and speed but you don’t give info about the lense, why ?

    I think it can be interesting, to know how far you were from the subject. For some reasons :
    – power of light given by the flash
    – Impact on the DOF
    – Imagining the setup

    Thanks Dany

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