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:
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″ Octabox (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.
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
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.
- Nikon D810 with the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II
- Nikon D5 with the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E VR
- Profoto B1 TTL flash (B&H / Amazon)
- Westcott Rapid Box 36″ Octabox (B&H / Amazon)
- Tips on photographing dancers and ballerinas (dancer: Anna L Russell)
- Outdoor photo session with kids, using off-camera flash
- Lighting for on-location photo sessions – pick your battles
- On-location photo session in New York – BTS video (model: Marco)
- Checklist for portrait photography on location (model: Anastasiya)
- More articles on Off-camera flash
8 Comments, Add Your Own
As an ex-dancer it is refreshing to see you taking the time to get the poses correct. I see a lot of dance photos where the pose is clearly taken when the dancer is moving in or out of a particular pose. And while the image could be beautiful , if the pose is not right it makes the whole image a fail. Makes me want to scream! These are beautiful! And so is your subject!
Love your pics and articles.
Shooting at f3.5 on a 200mm you have little dof.
Can you please tell me how you arrive at your ideal focussing point for shots like the dancer.
3Neil vN says
To prefocus where she would be for the peak of the movement, I had her step into the spot where she anticipated her peak movement would be. Then I would focus, and lock the focus for that spot. Then she’d step back and do her move.
4Callie Beale says
Neil- I adore reading your posts… they are filled with beautiful and skillfully created images and I always learn something along the way! Great work per usual!
4.1Danielle Watton says
Hi, how do you get to work with such a fast shutter speed with the flash ?
I can only get to about 1/320 then black band shows up at the bottom.
4.1.1Neil vN says
Some flash systems allow you to go into High-Speed Flash Sync, which is a mode where you aren’t limited to the camera’s maximum flash sync speed.
This is entirely dependent on the specific gear you have. Let us know what you are using, and perhaps we can still give you further advice.
These, along with the in-studio with gel sessions, are superb and lovely. I absolutely love the composition, her beautiful extensions, color, and just the way she looks in all of the pictures. Thanks for sharing this!
6Augie De Blieck Jr. says
Heh, I just spend some time taking pictures with my dancing daughter this weekend, but I had to work without the extra light. We were in local parks, so we took advantage of sunset-ish times to get the orange light from the side and lots of shadows to keep the lighting even everywhere else. My pro-tip for that: Don’t white balance the orange away. That’s too boring.
I could have used the external light when we tried something a few hours earlier and it was all not so good. ;-)