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Ballet Leaping on the Job

I’m fascinated with ballet leaps. They’re different, you know, from say jazz leaps. I hope I sound like I know what I’m talking about …

Faith here is doing one for the books – excellent turnout, great form. I don’t know what the other girls in the background are doing, but Faith is certainly working much harder than they are. Finding good ballerinas for your road crew is hard these days, you know. And don’t get me started on the union rules …

You will no doubt notice the motion blur (mostly) behind Faith. In studio you would not see this. In an environmental shot, using the type of camera I do, with the amount of exposure the ambient is contributing chances are – unless I get her at the absolute peak of the action – you’ll see something like this. Actually, since she is moving forward, rather than straight up, I’m not sure if I can prevent it at all.

What’s happening is the flash is fast enough (my key is an Elinchrom Quadra, and the fill is a speedlight) to stop her completely. But the shutter speed I have to shoot at is not. It’s somewhat complicated to explain, but most cameras of the type I use limit how quick the shutter can fire when using flash. And I almost always use flash.

The shutter is open long enough for her to move horizontally such that you can see movement. The flash can freeze that movement, but it happens much more quickly than the shutter, so part of her is frozen and part of her is not. There isn’t enough of a difference between the flash exposure and the ambient to prevent the ambient from contributing to (some) of the exposure. That is the blur you see – it is actually an underexposed image of Faith taken over time.

So why do I use flash?

If I didn’t, then I could not control the lighting ratio between my subject (Faith), the supporting cast, and the background. They would all be at roughly the same exposure. That’s generally not the way I shoot. I use light to highlight my subject and control the background exposure. I also use it to help tell the story – to give it direction and control how it looks. That means I have to add it. Adding it means using strobe.

Now you can take this motion blur 2 ways.

The first is to see it as adding a sense of motion to the image, highlighting her movement. The second way is to view it as a not completely frozen image.

I tend to view it as “it is what it is.” To completely stop her would mean bleeding another 2 or 3 stops from the environment (getting only 1/4 to 1/8 the light), meaning the flash is contributing all of the exposure. This would mean she is leaping in darkness. The other way would be to forgo my lighting.

Neither was an acceptable solution to me.

So I live with the blur, forcing it behind her by telling my camera to fire the flash at the end of its exposure cycle. This is called “rear curtain sync.” So the important part – her face – is sharp.

I woud rather trade the motion off and have control of the lighting than the other way around. That’s just part of my style. It’s what makes a “Don Fadel” photograph.

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