Momentum - Shooting a DalDance Poster

Back in February I shot a series of poster images in an afternoon for the DalDance society's recital poster.  The theme for the year was "Momentum", and I wanted to create something that showed fluid motion and captured the dancers in the middle of something beautiful.

This was a very interesting shoot.  Consider it a proof of concept, since I'd done nothing like it in the past:  mixing light sources to create something that showed motion but still stopped the movement to freeze the subject.  Then I thought about Joe McNally and the excellent video he did showing how to freeze a dancer with the motion in between...I can try that!

For this setup, I needed multiple flashes, remote triggers, a continuous light source with varying intensity and a tight directional quality, a good assistant, a blacked-out room (no light entering) and lots of dark fabric.  

We booked a room at the Dalhousie Student Union Building and set out to shoot, hoping for a room without windows, dark walls and a high ceiling.  Rats.  The room we got was basically a box, white walls and floor-to-ceiling windows.  Yeah. From Floor. To Ceiling.  

When we arrived, we used some black garbage bags to cover the windows in the room to prevent any light getting in.  A setup like this calls for near-pitch darkness.  The reason? My shutter would be open for as long as 2 seconds.  That's more than enough time to soak up anything coming in from a window and turn my black background into a grey mess. 


This is the first image we took, starting with a black sheet on a background stand.  Yeah. Panicking a bit.  The concept was sort of there, and although I had the faint light trail in the middle with motion frozen on both sides, this wasn't what I wanted. Push harder.  this image also showed that the large Par light I had rented was throwing light everywhere, so I fashioned a snoot using an old cardboard box to keep light from spilling onto the backdrop. 

We wound up finding a lot of black fabric tablecloths and covered the wall and floor to get where we needed to be.  there were a few holes, but I could fix those in photoshop. Then came the matter of balancing the flash with the ambient light.  

I needed the motion to be visible on the black bacground so I opened up the aperture to let in some more light.  I also turned down the flashes, and relocated them so that I had both of them on one side, one low and one high.  This meant that I was freezing action only on one side of the motion, but we could work with it.  

Shooting was tricky.  I worked off a tripod, in Bulb mode on the camera, meaning I had full control over the shutter duration.  The dancer found his/her position, then on my mark I opened the shutter and they began to move.  My assistant Jacqueline used the radio trigger off camera to pop the flashes and catch the dancer in mid-flight and as soon as that happened I closed the shutter.  overall exposure time was typically around 2 seconds. 

Here are the images we used:

The poster layout came together quickly, I would use the motion of the dancers on the top and bottom with the title and details in the middle.  I'm quite pleased since I'd never done this type of design work before.