Dancing With Light

In short, the dancer rules. They can really play with light. Most people, on camera, blink, maybe nervous or unsure, letting the light come through. Hard light, soft light? The person behind the camera knows best! Fotog becomes akin to a doctor, diagnosing (quietly), then prescribing. “You have a deep eye case, so I would use an umbrella and hard pop a wick that would run about two stops below the main channel. Trust me, you will feel much better after this treatment.”

“Uh okay, um, uh, what am I supposed to do with my hand?”

Dancers don’t do that. First of all, they know exactly what to do with their hand. Also, they arise and meet the light, and your imagination, somewhere, out there, in the air, in the space between. On camera you’ve offered your thoughts and directions, and cast light serenely on them, allowing them to play with it and create, rocking it like a child with a balloon.

The dancers of the 605 Company are unbelievably sublime, funny, antique, athletic, and artistic, up in the air, all at once. I worked with them years ago, and look forward to another visit this summer. I used the frame recently on our Instagram channel and several people have come back with questions. The same dancer. Same background. Different light to play with.

Below is a harsh, directional, and simple light. Two little crosswalk lights, with an impromptu barn door to mark them off. Then, you tell the dancers where the keys are so their faces stay in the light and the shapes play graphic havoc with the seamless paper.

From left to right, Josh Martin, Lisa Gelley, and Shay Kuebler become illogical figures in the air, as if they’re being bounced upwards like toy jacks, with no clear plan in mind.

In the frame below, you see the effect of a literal shower of light being thrown at them, allowing them to play with not only their bodies, but also their expressions, jumping as if in reaction to the absurd or potentially dangerous news of the day. That.

Instead of points of light, here the main lights are broad and soft. The main thing is that it can be a large umbrella or a soft box. But it’s the low fill lighting that completes the scene. Lay white foam core on the floor, in front of the camera. Two c-angle arms stand down, each with flash heads pointing flat at the board, on either side of the camera. Call this low charging power relative to the main light. Whatever looks and feels good is what you choose. The beautiful thing about this light style? This frees the dancers. Free to look up or down, free to move and turn, knowing the light will be there to greet them. The shadow play above is created by two points of light. Aerial newspaper readings are given by large and wide, low and high surfaces.

And the background is bright white. The lights are behind the dancers, shielded from them and the camera by a flat V, across the seamless white paper and pumping it up a nice +1 to +1.5 stop over the foreground lights. Shadows disappear, brightness rules.

I would never have met the 605 Company dancers if it weren’t for my good friend David Cooper, one of the foremost dance photographers working today. Her ability to capture dance, in both a powerful and nuanced way, is outstanding. I have learned a lot from him and his work. Her book, Body of Work, is phenomenal.

More thx….

The Dancing With The Light post first appeared on Joe McNally Photography.

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