Gear Inspiration

Ballerinas, X-T1 and Phottix Indra lights

· 27.January.2016

Recently I had a great opportunity to photograph the Bellevue Ballet in Seattle for the PIX 2015 conference. Lee Varis and I set up a full length background, completely equipped with Phottix Indra lights and shot 1000 images over 2 full days with the Fuji X-T1 and the 16-55mm 2.8 lens. We were on the convention hall floor with lots of people watching, and we let them shoot, too, and get a print! The medium zoom was the perfect lens, allowing us to frame easily without having to go way out on the floor with a fixed telephoto. It’s necessary to have a medium telephoto to avoid shooting off the edge of the background. If it was a more controlled situation, I would have shot with the fixed 85mm f1.4, or the 50-140 f 2.8 zoom.

Full length portraits in the studio depend upon two crucial elements: lighting that will define the shape and form of the body, and understanding that the body position IS the composition of the image. Although we did variations, my basic lighting set up was a 42” Luna Folding Octa Soft Box as my main light, and two Phottix Luna Folding Softboxes-12” x 60”. The 42” Octo has a medium wide coverage without too much spread, and the quality of light is very creamy. The strips are perfect for a soft directional light, in this case used to outline and highlight the shape, so they were placed on each side, slightly behind. Have a look above at the lighting set up. You can see the large soft box on camera left and the two strips behind.

I shot many individual shots in various costumes, some with the ballerinas in flight. The main light wraps around the body, giving form and dimension from the shadows on the camera left side. The two strips add the rim light, which is an outline that emphasizes the shape. The strobes light freeze the motion because the flash duration is so short, so all movement is frozen. I’m always totally blown away by the strength of these dancers and their ability to fly.



The same lighting set up works for two because that gorgeous Octa box covers well. It is important to make sure that one person does not block off the light of the other, so placement or the subject is crucial. You can see in this photo that the ballerina on camera left has her face away from the main light, so only the strip from camera right is on her face. Nothing to do about that, as long as she is not in the dark!




They are so adorable!

Placing three ballerinas in the same shot is going to result in some light blockage. But just opening up the shadows a bit and dodging the face farthest from the light will balance it out.




To create more drama, I sometimes chose to use on one or two lights. I love the elegance of this image and her pose, since she is anonymous because we don’t see her face. Turning off the main light and just using the strip just gives us the rim light. I love the light that rakes across her back showing off the muscles, and the outline of the legs. A nice touch is that the tiara is lit up and so it her hair bun.




It’s such a beautiful and graceful pose.

On the second day of shooting the ballerinas brought in costumes instead of the standard tutus. This particular costume was intriguing as it was designed to be like flower petals. During her dance, all the petals are up and enclose the dancer. As she dances, they are lowered revealing the beauty inside. Here I moved the main light to camera right and used just one strip box from camera left for the edge light. Her face is beautifully lit, the form of the body is defined and edge or rim light adds the drama.




This costume was fascinating and I had an idea for something different. Our set up was right next to a stairway, so I climbed up and shot down on her, using only the one strip light from camera left.




The material is like a mesh, so it was interesting how it took the light. And the shadows on the seamless are sharper because the strip is a harder light source.

This last costume was Puck from MidSummer’s Night Dream, so it called for more drama. Just the one main light from camera right and no fill so the shadows would go dark, adding to the theatricality. The pose helps, too!




She had a variation on the mask, so I did a tighter portrait with just the one light, making sure that her eyes were lit. She is an imp! Check out the eyelashes!




To wrap it up, the Fuji XT 1 performed perfectly. Focusing was perfect, capturing the moment in flight was no problem due to the quick shutter response. The 16-55 f 2.8 gave me the flexibility that I needed to reframe quickly and easily. And the Phottix lights, which are battery operated, had a fast recycle time, great quality and after shooting all day, the battery power was still at half! Choosing the right tools allows more creative choices. And this was such a creative and fun shoot!

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