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The best setup images of people are created when the talents of photographer and subject are successfully combined. The photographer cannot capture a worthwhile image if the model never hits the required look and position. Equally, the model's efforts are wasted when the photographer misses or fails to recognize the critical moment. The key element in the process is therefore the relationship of photographer and model and, in particular, the quality of communication. This somewhat intangible ingredient is often overlooked and cannot be introduced using Photoshop.

Dance image 1These images were created as part of an on-going two-year dance project established in support of a much larger and broader venture. There is nothing particularly clever or difficult about them from the photography point of view, but they are heavily dependent upon the artistic talents of the dancer. They also demonstrate application of the basic principles of photographing people.

I have photographed the dancer shown in the images on numerous occasions - in photographic and dance studios, and also outdoors. I first met her during the period of her training and qualification, and was consequently able to help her to some extent with portfolio material. We were honest with each other from the start, and got on well. Our families have become friends, and she knows she is welcome in my home. By now you may be wondering what all this has to do with photographing people. Well, a good photographic relationship of this nature helps to create an easy, relaxed atmosphere and encourages the good communication and understanding required. When I approached her with ideas for my project she was not only interested and relaxed but also keen to contribute. Fortunately she was also able to fit me into her busy professional schedule.

Dance image 2The images were created during a series of sessions each lasting about two hours. Thorough preparation was an important part of the process. The model provided me with countless images of dancers in action, and I scoured the local library and the Internet for additional ideas. Then, having arrived at a short-list of objectives, we fixed a date for the initial session and hired suitable costumes for the first couple of shots.

Most of the work was undertaken in a photographic studio because the ever-present mirrors in dance studios are a photographic hazard when using flash. The white background paper was dropped from a height of 3 metres. It was also extended well across the studio floor to allow a separation of about four metres between dancer and background. It was independently lit by two powerful flash-heads adjusted to overexpose by one-and-a-half stops. This burnt out the shadows created by the separately lit figure without causing too much flare. A small mark on the floor identified the optimum position for the dancer, who was illuminated by two more flash-heads. The main light was positioned a couple of metres from the camera and was sufficiently directional to provide good modelling. A softer second head set one stop lower provided fill.

Once the dancer had completed her warm-up exercises, she was ready to attempt particular moves and positions. These were repeated and refined until the peak of the action was achieved both in the correct orientation and at the optimum studio location. I could then be confident of correct illumination, focus and depth of field. The short duration of the flash ensured that normal limb movements were frozen. Whirling hair and costumes were allowed to blur. The duration of the flashes from basic studio flash units, effectively the exposure period, is usually about 1/1000 second at maximum power output and perhaps 1/500 second at lower power settings. This offers the photographer very little control over movement. However, varying shutter speed in conjunction with the ambient light level can change the degree of blurring. Good ambient light in the studio allows movement to be recorded before or after the period of the flash.

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