Dancing in the Dark

Dancers leap into the air.

Dancers leap into the air at the Northern Lights School of Dance in Whitehorse, Yukon. Photo by Rick Massie / Yukon Sport Photographer

This was a tough shoot. Why, you ask?

A) The walls and ceiling were either very bright white, or very light pink. This means lots of spill, and possibly pink color casts bleeding into the pictures.

B) The wall on the left is not a wall. It’s a huge mirror along the length of it! This causes more light spill, and stray reflections that might leak light into parts of the photo where I don’t want it.

C) The wall across from that? It’s all windows. And they run along the length of the room. And no blinds.

Hmmm….I was envisioning dancers against a dark background. How to pull this off?

Answer: High power flashes!

This might not seem intuitive, but it really does work.

1) I got the dancers away from the back wall. Very far away. This way any light hitting them will be unlikely to make it all the way to the back of the room. So the background goes dark.

2) Turn up the power on those flashes! By turning up the power, it forces me to stop down my aperture in the camera (letting less light in). I dial down the amount of light entering my camera, and the dancers come out looking just right. But it also further darkens the background, killing most of the ambient light around us.

3) I used a silver umbrella, placed camera left to light the front dancer. I got it as close to her as possible, aiming mostly down. Since she was looking up, it lit her face. And since it was pointing down, it only lit a small area around her, instead of bouncing light all over the room.

4) For the dancer in the background, I used a bare flash camera right (it was positioned as a side-light, only lighting one side of her), but with a very tightly zoomed beam of light so that it only lit the dancer, and almost none of the room. It also provided a strange but cool flare on the right side of the photo.

Learn your light, whether it’s a flash, a desk lamp, the sun, or the moon.  Once you understand how it works, you can use it to work magic in your photos.

2 thoughts on “Dancing in the Dark

  1. Rick… Great job on the pictures you take really good advice on lighting I must try it one of this days… I’ve seen a lot of your pictures on Betty’s Facebook I must say you know what you at keep up the good work….

    • Thanks Jorge! I hope the advice is useful. I’ll be posting more detailed lighting tips in the future as well, so stay tuned!

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