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Tone on Tone

I love tone-on-tone images. Black-on-black. White-on-white.

We were in studio shooting a project theme for Insidious Tomatoes. I had solicited the help of 3 young, talented dancers, all proper, highly skilled professionals:


Prima ballerinas, they.

I think we succeeded in getting what we were after. And then some (as the above illustrates). It was a long shoot, due to shot logistics and props, but fun.

I think I have returned to an “umbrella phase” of studio shooting. This time no parabolic, but a return to that simple, humble lighting mod which throws light all over the place in a semi-controlled manner: the reflective umbrella. Just what you need for dancers on the go.

The reflective umbrella is where nearly everyone starts in lighting; here I used 3: 2 to light the background and a third as warm fill (it was gold). My key was a simple rigid reflector. What I was after was very “wrappy” light, meaning very soft transitions between highlight and shadow. I wanted lots of light, but without a “flash” look to it. And just a bit of punch courtesy of that key.

I also wanted plenty of wrap coming from the studio’s white cyc. We could make it come and go, on demand, by varying the distance the dancers were from it.

Although the primary image was not tone-on-tone (and you’ll see why I chose the setup I did in a future post), when I learned that Addie, one of the dancers, had brought a white platter and white top, I couldn’t resist. Given her skin tone and golden hair, and with all that light, the following emerged:


I could have chosen B&W in post, but I think color, in bringing out her skin tones and red lipstick, added just enough to offset all that white, and in fact to turn it up a notch.

I confess I do get tired of shooting on white. But there are times that an image demands that simplicity.  I haven’t done it in a while, and, like the saying goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder. So now was the perfect time.

You’ll notice that I did not bring the background to paper white, otherwise the platter would be totally lost. I do love the translucent nature of the platter, though, with only a hint of its outline. It blends into the background behind her, barely discernable. A hint of the delicacy of her costume and that dichotomy that is the ballerina: muscle and power harnessed to a very graceful art.

And though the ballerina is the hero of the shot, it is that infinity wall that makes it. It provides negative space to balance the image to complete the story. Its power lies in its subtlety. This is, after all, a story of tones. And the grace and power of our dancer.

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