top of page

How to photograph a ballerina using only one light!

Almost 5 years now that I've been working with performing artists. 5 years of tests, failures, and victories. This is part of the fun of photography. Looking back on my work I am proud of what has been accomplished so far. This is one of the reasons I launched this blog in the first place. Being able to look back on this incredible journey, and share this experience with others.

I have decided recently to invest a bit more time into youtube. I've had a love-hate relationship with the platform for years, but we seem to get along again... at least for now. This past month I started posting regularly. A new video every Tuesday, about my experience as a photographer, showing behind-the-scenes images and sharing my tips and tricks to the community.

I know I have a lot to learn yet and my recent videos are a little bit all over the place. But I feel I am slowly finding my rhythm and my style. This video is probably my "real" first attempt in making a "How to" video. I had the idea and topic of this one a few days back while reviewing past videos I made. While watching them one by one I discovered I had developed a systematic approach. Every time I was on location with one light I often used the same technique. Nothing revolutionary, others have done it before, and I believe others will continue after me. This simple light setup is just amazingly simple and yet effective. It produces great-looking images, especially with performers and athletes. Whether they are moving or posing it works every time I used it. The idea is to use this technique as a starting point. I am not here to tell you how you should light your subject, I am just showing you how I do it and how you can benefit from my approach.

When I started using it, I thought of it this way. Having my light aligned with my camera, unless it was on a close-up headshot with my light placed above my model, gave my subject a "Flat" look, and I did not like that. Going for a complete split by placing the light at a 90 degrees angle was fun from time to time but often a bit too much. So what do we have left? All that's in between!

Like the diagrams show down below find your sweet spot by slowly shifting from a 90 degrees placement to 45 and stop before aligning your light with your camera!

I usually figure out the pose first and place my light afterward. Once we have chosen what to do, my reference at first will be my subject's face. The goal is to create shadows on the talent's face and/or body to create depth and give a "3D look". Shadows will help sculpt the face and body, the more shadows, the more drama, it's up to you and to the look you're going after.

In our first example, we were closer to a split lighting configuration than usual (between the 1st and 2nd diagram showed you earlier). Vanesa Garcia an amazing dancer at the Grand Ballet de Montreal is placed in profile to the camera. I didn't want to place my light at a 90 degrees camera left cause I thought it was too much. I am using a Broncolor 1200L and the beloved Para 88... Just look how her athletic figure is enhanced by the lighting.

The second picture features Miriam Kacerova, a dancer at the Stuttgart Ballet. The light is simply facing her at almost a 90 degrees angle camera right. This placement gave us a nice shadow behind her, giving her body more depth. We used the Siros L and the 90 x 120 Broncolor softbox for this one to balance the exposure.

On my last example captured at the Basilica St Sernin in Toulouse, the direction of the body was my reference. Julie Loria a dancer at the Capitole, proposed different head placements and I thought it would be cool to have her turn the other way. The light is just facing her (Diagram number 2) and even though she's turning her head in the opposite way, it still works. Again the 90 x 120 Broncolor softbox and the Siros L were used in this shot.

All pictures were captured with the Canon 5D Mark III.

This is what made me fall in love with off-camera flash work. Possibilities are then endless because you can then go further, by backlighting your subject or adding more lights and creating crazy combinations and scenarios. Iy you are an outdoor shooter you can already experience working with 2 lights having just one strobe... Yes, only one strobe because the other one is the sun!

My choice in light modifiers could be the topic of a new video and blog post. I actually work essentially with the beauty box 65 that truly acts like a beauty dish... The difference is that it's collapsible thus portable.

I sometimes use the 90x120 broncolor softbox on big occasions (ha, ha) , mainly for indoor shoots because, outside, you have no chance against the wind. I haven't always worked with the 800ws Siros L, I played with the Canon Speedlite 600ex rt back in the days coupled with a deep reversed silver umbrella, and had other great tools in my hands. The Beasty 1200L and its para 88 and the ELB 400 by Elinchrom.

Here are 2 shots showing you can use a simple Speedlite :

The following photograph of Juliet Doherty was captured in New York using Diagram 3 for light placement. We used the Canon 600ex rt that day to balance the exposure.

Fanny George, with a light placement close to diagram 2. Canon's Speedlite 600ex RT was used again here but this time with the beauty box 65.

Experiment with this at home, outside, with your friends, or whoever wants to help you create your "go-to " one light set up. After a while, it will become second nature and you will know quickly how to place your model and adjust your light placement to your needs. I personally started using 2 lights on location regularly only last year. I posted a video about this recently, you should definitely check it out.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask... If you have no questions, then Rendez-Vous in my next post.


bottom of page