Floating, Zombie Ballerinas..I Mean, Of Course… « Joe McNally Photography

A number of people who follow our recent Instagram posts have asked about the “how to” explanation of the lighting and staging of the banner photo at the top. Others just ask, what happened? Still others may think of asking exactly what kind of pharmaceutical regimen I’m on.

I’ve been photographing dance throughout my career, and it’s certainly a beautiful thing to watch and photograph. Today, ballerinas are everywhere – the subway, landscape settings, on counters at lunch (guilty!) and various places where it seems impossible to throw yourself in arabic style.

What to do that might be different? Unique? Stupid? Bent? Enter the Pointe Shoe Mystery, a photo noir-ish series that imagines a prima ballerina, in order to secure a certain degree of certainty of being selected for the lead role, out of competition. Detective Nik Night is tasked with investigating these gruesome and terrifying glissades from the dark side of dance.

A dancer was found in the dryer at a laundromat in Brooklyn.

Another wore pointe shoes in a trash can outside Sixth Avenue in The Diner.

Intrepid rubber shoe Nik Night, played by good friend and great actor Nik Pjeternikaj, hears rumored music and dancers float by in the grave where this recently departed dance diva is buried. Is it scary magic? Shouts from outside? Music to lament the untimely deaths of these talented dancers as they moved from first to last?

Nik investigates only to encounter a zombie that jumps and frightens into a tattered tutus.

Ok… this involves gel, smoke, lighting trees, and floating our great actresses Marisa Roper and Natasha King on tombstones. Which is done by shooting plates where the sets are naked, and then positioning little trampolines for them to get airtime. The smoke is indiscriminate, as it tends to be carried away by the slightest breeze. Hence the lights kinda go in and out, in and out. Brighter, smokier, then dimmer and louder. Just like that.

BTS is silent here thanks to Seth Miranda, the SFX master himself. Zombie treatment by Catrina Grieco, who is amazing in this kind of transformation. Production, as always, by Lynn DelMastro, perfect as always. Lighting is all Profoto – large and small units. Gitzo Systematic for camera settings in each episode, which you will see in the BTS video. As night penetrates, the shutter speed is extended. It’s also very important to be really steady as you shoot the plate because everything has to stay registered. The Systematic is a powerful platform.

Surprisingly, it’s not a difficult image to create, despite the swirling smoke, and the intensity of the on and off spread of gel color. It’s all in your head, so you really can’t “make a mistake”. Because there is no “right way” to shoot a floating zombie ballerina. Fly it! Install some lights, get into action, and go for it.

To all, have a beautiful and safe Halloween!

more tk…

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