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Degree of Difficulty 8.0

I have come to the realization that my location shooting style is fraught with risk.

Setup times are long. Many many test shots. Lots of variables. Lots of things to go wrong.

I was shooting a young dancer on location; the client wanted my signature style which means key-shifted, wide aperture images. I was shooting for a Holiday package I offer.

The location was outstanding: a riverfront home with beautiful views and many shooting choices.

The talent  was a dancer training to be a ballerina. And she showed up wearing a platter. Holy crap. Bingo! Photographic jackpot!

So what’s the big deal? The challenge was to shoot into the sun to get backlit images and take advantage of a westerly view that provided sky color even at 3 in the afternoon. Key shifting meant supplemental lighting – have strobe(s), will travel. And a variable ND filter to kill those 6 stops of light so I can shoot f/4 rather than the f/22-f/32 my key light was emitting. That ND filter cuts a lot of light – 6 stops is  1/64 of the light. My camera was laughing at me trying to focus. It did. I heard it..

Lest you shed a tear (or maybe not) of sympathy for your humble photographer wrestling with autofocus issues, the dancer had her share of challenges, too. Holding pointe on concreate and decking boards isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do, all the while being graceful and photogenic. Wearing a platter. Patiently enduring test shots.

What could possibly go wrong?

Lightstand (with pack and head and rigid reflector) blowing over? Check. Failure to focus? Check. Difficulty checking images in the bright sun? Eyes bleary from staring into said sun, often with a telephoto lens? Teetering ballerina? Check, check, and check.

Hey, if anyone could do this it wouldn’t be any fun, would it.

In the end, the ballerina survived and the images reflect, I think, the rewards of that risk. Doing my best Joe McNally impersonation, we came up with a good variety of images, but this one resonates with me the most:


At least for today. We got some good stuff, and there are others that are equally interesting to me.

The trick, as always, is to tell the story in an interesting way with a single image. Technical challenges include lighting that has to compensate for the sun’s position – without adding light she will be in shadow as the sun is actually behind her – yet be plausible. In this case, my key placement provides light on her face that is consistent and logical.  The supplemental light illuminating the underside of her tutu can’t draw attention to itself, but is necessary.

But the shoot isn’t successful because I was happy with the images. It worked because the client was happy with them.

There are many ways to shoot this concept. But this is the way I shoot; maintaining consistency in my style (not to say it doesn’t evolve) is important not only to me but to those that entrust their memories to me. This means taking some risks with client patience, technical issues, and the challenges of location shooting.

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