In a nutshell, dancers rule. They literally can play with the light. Most folks, in front of a camera, blinking, perhaps nervous or uncertain, just let the light come. Hard light, soft light? The person behind the camera knows best! The photog becomes similar to a doctor, diagnosing (quietly), and then prescribing. “You’ve got a case of deep set eyes, so I’m going with the umbrella and an on axis hard pop that’s going to run about two stops under the main. Trust me, you’ll feel better after this treatment.”
“Uh okay, um, uh, what do I do with my hands?”
Dancers don’t do that. First of all, they know exactly what to do with their hands. Also, they rise up and meet the light, and your imagination, somewhere, out there on the set, in the air, in the space between. At the camera you’ve offered your thoughts and direction, and floated the light quietly out to them, allowing them to play with it and create, punting it around like kids with a balloon.
The marvelous dancers of Company 605 are sublime, humorous, antic, athletic and artistic, in the air, all at once. I worked with them years back, and hoping for a return visit this summer. I used a frame recently on our Instagram channel and a couple people came back with questions. Same dancers. Same backdrop. Different light to play with.
Below is hard, directed, simple light. Two small crossing flashes, with impromptu barn doors to flag them. Then, you let the dancers know where the keys are so their faces remain in the light and their shapes play graphical havoc with the seamless paper.
In the frame below, you see the effect of a literal bath of light thrown their way, allowing them to play not only with their bodies, but also their expressions, leaping as if in reaction to the preposterous or potentially dangerous news of the day.
Instead of points of light, here the main light is broad and soft. The main can be a big umbrella or soft box. But it’s the low fill lighting that rounds the scene out. Lay down white foam core on the floor, in front of the camera. Angle arm two c-stands downwards, each with a flash head pointing flatly at the boards, on either side of the camera. Dial in the power of this low fill relative to the main light. Whatever looks and feels good is what you go with. Beautiful thing about this style of light? It sets the dancers free. Free to look up or down, free to move and turn, knowing the light will be there to greet them. The shadow games above were created by two pinpricks of light. The air bound newspaper reading was rendered by big, broad surfaces, low and high.
And the background is bright white. Those lights are behind the dancers, shielded from them and the camera by V flats, crossing the white seamless paper and pumping it to a good +1 to +1.5 stops over the foreground light. Shadows gone, brightness rules.
I wouldn’t have ever met the Company 605 dancers were it not for my good friend David Cooper, one of the truly preeminent dance photographers working today. His ability to capture dance, both in a powerful and nuanced way, is uncanny. I have learned much from him and his work. His book, Body of Work, is phenomenal.