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Friends Through Small Spaces

So I found myself on a jetty outside Mayport, FL, late Saturday afternoon, with a score of professional dancers. The portion of the jetty we were on was made of rocks. Big rocks. Sharp rocks. Not necessarily flat rocks.

So there we were. Some dancers wearing pointe shoes, some wearing no shoes, all trying to balance, stay upright in the fairly stiff breeze that was blowing, avoid bees, not fall between the boulders, strike a dance pose, and be photogenic.

I kept telling the dancers, “if it was easy anyone could do it” as I was attempting to bolster their confidence, all the while praying they didn’t fall, the company owners had signed waivers, they were in focus, and the light was right.

Ah, the joys of location work.

Me? Well let’s see. The lightstand holding my strobe (in a 16″ deep rigid reflector) was sandbagged with 60 lbs worth of weight, but the light was 10′ in the air and therefore, I believe, does still quality as a sail. With a pack-and-head system merrily swinging along with it. I was having focusing issues shooting into the backlight provided by our friend the sun.

Ah, the joys of location work.

Even though wide aperture is where I try to live, now was not the time to go big. Getting the shot, and ensuring it was quality, meant going small. Really small. I felt I needed not only the safety margin in case focus was off, but there wasn’t time to work with a Vari-ND filter given the circumstances in order to go wide (we were shooting late in the day, but still with an f/8 ambient).

So it was small aperture time. f/16 anyone?

The background was interesting enough to remain in focus (the St. Johns River), and hopefully key shifted enough, to balance the talent. Highlighting, using light (photo graphos) the dancer so there would be no question where interest should be centered.

Backlighting also helped, not only by providing rim to help separate the dancer from the background but also by placing specular highlights on the water. It also inverted, so to speak, your normal expectations of light: rather than falling off in the distance, it actually intensified. This provided an interesting effect as the river snaked its way away from us. The ambient gave the images a 3 dimensional feel, normally the job of Mr. Focus. Today, however, he got the day off.

WIlfred illustrates my points.


Bokeh from wide aperture would have been nice but was not worth the risk, at least not on this day. Besides, the cruise ship was an expensive prop and you at least want to be able to see it. 🙂

Sometimes I feel that shooting talented dancers is almost like cheating. I do find that my posing skills tend to degrade following shoots with them, since they already know what to do, how to control their bodies, and how to project. Besides, they are very nice people to be around. I am spoiled.

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