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Light Painting With Dancers

I have to admit to being challenged by light painting. Balancing a long exposure against depth-of-field and sensor noise, in the dark, pleading with models to stay still for the duration, and creating something interesting with 2 flashlights stuffed into a plastic tube I find not particularly easy to do. The irony on this June evening, of course, is that I’m usually existing – photographically speaking – not in the seconds but in the 1/000’s of a second with these same dancers. The light is usually just a wink, not a drawn-out twirl.

The light that I normally photograph dancers in is what freezes them in time. On this night, I struggled to keep them sharp and avoid the ghosting and softness characteristic of movement when the light is not quick enough, by design, to suspend them. The light is not freezing. It is slow and enveloping, not quick and decisive.

We’re talking moments, and not the moment.

Things started innocently enough, myself and dancers Natalie and Haley. While waiting for the ambient to drop, we warmed up with some ambient matching with strobe and some mild key shifting.

© Donald J. Fadel, Jr. |

© Donald J. Fadel, Jr. |

We were blending with the light, not highlighting it. It was a tool, not the focus.

It even included that epitome of dance frozen in time and space – the jump.

© Donald J. Fadel, Jr. |

All fine and dandy. In fact, you can see trailing motion blur characteristic of not enough difference between the ambient and flash at my sync speed of 1/250 second. I used to loathe it. Now I embrace it – she is moving, after all, and as long as it’s behind her life is good.

But I digress.

We came for a different form of drama, the antithesis of the jump: as static a pose as they could muster. It was the light – long, drawn-out light – that provided the “motion.”

© Donald J. Fadel, Jr. |

© Donald J. Fadel, Jr. |



It was a rather short session; did you know many flying insects are attracted to lights at night?

While I was pleased with the images, I’m looking forward to perfecting my technique and delivering rock solid poses with interesting light patterns.

More to come.

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