Lighting the Dance

Sunday night was a lot of fun.  I got to meet two awesome dancers, Shelby and Vicky who specialize in pole work.  

As part of mentoring for the Sackville photo club,  Scott Oldford and I helped four other members with some lighting and posing techniques.  We worked with the studio's Alien Bee heads and many modifiers to create some very cool and dynamic shots.  We had two setups: Scott worked with the dancers while they were on the pole, and I set up some portrait and floor dancing stuff.  We had a lot of fun experimenting with the different light modifiers and using the high-speed output of the flash heads to freeze action. 

We set up the main light above Shelby.  The modifier we went with was an octo-box soft box (something like this), something that would deliver a spot-like effect but still be somewhat smooth.  We maneuvered it into place up high and facing downward so that Shelby could perform some upward facing actions and still have a nice light on her face.  as an added bonus, the light fell off nicely before it hit the wall, so it helped create a really nice vignetting (with a little persuasion from post-production). 

The girls switched up after a bit, and Vicky came over to our set.  She was very specialized to working with the pole, and didn't really have any floor based stuff to perform, so we switched up the lighting and did a portrait instead.  In order to do this, we simply lowered the soft box, added a small strip light to the left side and voila! We had a nice even portrait lighting setup.

Scott Oldford did some really nice work on the pole photos, you can check them out here: Scott's Blog

Here's a recap of what we learned:  
  • Big lights freeze action.  The Alien Bees 400 series lights have a flash duration of  1/2000 of a second at full power.  Your shutter speed should be below your sync speed regardless of flash duration, but it won't come into the exposure equation as long as the studio strobe is the only source of light.
  • Timing is everything.  For the frame at the top of the page, I had Shelby jump up several times before I was able to capture her in the right pose.  
  • Light direction is very important.  Use the light to your advantage by getting the subject to "play into it".  This basically means keeping your model's face relatively square to the light for an even effect.
  • More light isn't better light.  We tried adding some other lights to this setup but in reality, we had a great look with just one light.  A second strobe provided a bit of outlining for both the jumping shot and the portrait, but we didn't need it on the posed shot.
  • Longer lenses provide a better look for headshot type portraits.  The compression of a telephoto lens helps to keep features from distorting, and is usually much more flattering to the subject.
  • Shorter lenses help to provide a dynamic look.  The topmost photo was taken at about 35mm on a full frame camera.  This lens was chosen to help give the appearance of a higher jump and a deeper room.