On Assignment: Stephanie Yezek

My ongoing partnership with the Howard County Arts Council has yielded a steady stream of talented, interesting people to stick in front of my camera. And dancer Stephanie Yezek, above, is a great example. She can pretty much disobey the laws of gravity whenever she wants. She has amazing strength and control.

Regular readers will know that I love shooting against dusk. And since this project is essentially a license to experiment, that's exactly what we did…

Dancing in the Dark

Ever since I first stuck an umbrella'd flash in front of a sunset, I have been hooked on the ever-changing, tweakable backdrops that dusk has to offer.

Just dial your flash power into a certain aperture on your subject, shoot at that aperture and choose the shutter speed that gives you the background value that you want.

The problem for many people (including myself for a long time) is that flash against sunset looks good enough to where you can be happy with your first efforts. Which is to say that you tend to not stretch yourself with different forms of light, and risk getting stagnant.

So I have been trying to just think of the sunset/dusk backdrop as just that -- a backdrop. And then I try to put more effort into lighting my subjects in front of it.

In this case, for instance, rather than a single umbrella I am using a key light, a separation light and a fill light. The result is a crisp, three-dimensional look to Stephanie as she flies through the air.

But the more difficult problem was one of shutter speed and shooting window. Your window to shoot opens when your flash can equalize the background light levels at your camera's sync speed. It closes when you cannot walk your shutter down any further to compensate for the dropping light level.

Which is why I decided to use my Profoto B600s for this shoot. The extra power they put out meant that I could start shooting earlier, lengthening what would have been a very short shooting window otherwise.

And it's not like I could blast away at 9 FPS, either. She needed to run, hit her mark, land, walk back around, occasionally catch her breath, etc. (Heck, I got tired just watching her.) So the extra power absolutely made this shot possible -- especially considering I was shooting at a mid-range aperture so she would stay in focus through the jump.

We got about a dozen or so leaps before our light levels would no longer permit leap-freezing shutter speeds. There were some nice images, but nothing that really jumped out at me. So we decided to stretch our window and our luck.

If you look closely at a larger version of the image, Stephanie is perfectly frozen (by the flash) but there is a little movement shadow around her body. There's even more movement in the tree line at bottom.

That's because this frame was one of the last ones we tried. It was shot at 1/100th of a second at f/7.1 at ISO 800. We were well into Hail Mary shutter speeds, as far as leap-freezing was concerned. And I never would have expected my favorite frame from the evening to come at a 1/100th of a second. In fact, I was concerned as soon as I had to drop below 1/250th.

But what matters here is not Stephanie's right-to-left speed but rather how accurately the camera is tracking her as it pans along with the jump. That's why the only real motion blur is in the fixed objects.

(You can see a much, much slower/cooler version of this same shutter speed flash-pan concept here.)

I figured that we were finished as soon as we went below a 200th of a sec. But Stephanie had more gas in the tank and so was able to jump in the dark for a few more minutes. And that is exactly what it took to make the best frame of the night.

Designing the Light

As we said above, there were three sources. And the key needed to be a big source so we could move it back and still retain some softness. (We needed it further away to keep a consistent exposure through the leap.)

So that light was a Profoto B600 in a (converted) Paul Buff 47" Octa. It is up very high because she is leaping way up in the air and you still want to be well above her face. It is placed at camera left.

The rim light is a LumoPro LP160, at back camera right, synced with it's internal slave. This light is bare, so I do not need a ton of power out of it compared to the others. Good thing, too, as I only have two B600s.

The fill is from the second Profoto B600 in a ring light, which is not something I would have ever imagined using against sunset even a couple years ago. But that is the light that dials in the detail anywhere the key or rim does not hit. It is hiting her at a couple of stops down, and feathered up just a bit. This keeps more of the light heading to her upper body, which is further away from me than her legs and feet.

And to me that ring light (along with the slow-speed pan) is the key to the photo. The key and rim give you the shape, but the ring gives you the detail to exactly the degree that you want it. Doesn't call attention to itself, either. But you'd sure see a big difference if it wasn't there.


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Blogger MichaelHope said...

I'm starting to feel a bit cocky. I am getting to the point (having regularly tuned into strobist for quite some time) that I can tell almost immediately how you set up to get the shots you get. I know straight away how many lights, I can almost always tell which mods you are using and when you've filled with your ring. I almost feel like David Carradine in the old Kung Fu series (OK, so I dated myself) when the old master says, "When you can snatch the pebble from my hand, it will be time for you to leave." Of course, I am not leaving, but I thank you David, for all you have helped me learn. Michael in Toronto (Oh, and Happy New Year)

January 03, 2011 12:57 AM  
Blogger Erik Lemay said...

At that ambient light level, you could've got good results with way slower speed. I've tried to blur skateboarders at twilight and was only getting interesting results slower than 1/10 sec., even so.

January 03, 2011 1:55 AM  
Blogger Team Louish said...

Awesome shot. I love how your articles always include links to other relevant posts for reference where we, the readers, can easily see articles you've done in the past that we might of missed. I learn something new every time I come to your site. Thanks!
Clint Decker

January 03, 2011 2:42 AM  
Blogger mr_chompers said...

Can you elaborate on what you mean by a b600 "in" a ringlight? Is this just a b600 adapted to a rayflash/orbis dealy? Because I do not see any official b600 heads into a ringflash converters. Just curious because it sounds interesting.

January 03, 2011 5:37 AM  
OpenID almostinfamous said...

Happy New Year, David.

minor question - are you using the ring flash on-axis or off? it looks like it's on-axis, but just want to be sure.

January 03, 2011 8:41 AM  
Blogger John said...

Awesome post to start the new year! I really like how this light sculpts her from the background and I also like that thin, black shadow surrounding her, its more interesting to me.
I'm quite impressed with her ability as well, it can't be easy striking that move alone, much less being nuked with 1.21 gigawatts of electricity. ;)

However, is there any chance we could see a shot where the ring flash didn't fire? I'd really like to see how much this is affecting the final image.

January 03, 2011 8:49 AM  
Blogger Rune said...

Really cool photo. Just wondering:
why was it paramount to have an aperture at about 7? Wich eventually sent you down to 1/100. If the dancer jumps across the picture, one should get enough DOF with f 4.0 or ever f 2.8 - a bit depending on the focal length ofcourse. Or am I utterly mistaken here?
Best regards

January 03, 2011 9:10 AM  
Blogger greenphoto said...

"She needed to run, hit her mark, land, walk back around, occasionally catch her breath..." Next time try renting or borrowing a small trampoline - you will be able to get a lot more shots in the allotted time and a less fatigued subject. Panning becomes less of an issue as well. Nice work and thank you for the lighting info. Happy 2011!

January 03, 2011 9:15 AM  
Blogger Peter Davis said...

What difference does the ring light make compared to, say, a bare light or one shanked in tight with an umbrella? Never heard of using a ring light off-axis.

January 03, 2011 10:07 AM  
Blogger wade_beard said...

THIS is exactly what got me into strobisting (?) to begin with. I don't get to shoot enough of these kind of shots, but when I do, I'm thankful for the skills you have so awesomely shared with us. Thank you for that.

January 03, 2011 1:41 PM  
Blogger dhani accioly borges said...

In skateboard photography, we freeze action at night with speeds as low as 1/8. The flash freezes the action and not your shutter speed. So much so that we like to use the Elinchrom Rangers with the speed head to better freeze the action, or our Speed lights at around 1/4 (any stronger than that and the flash doesn´t freeze as well)

January 03, 2011 5:38 PM  
Blogger Yugo said...

David, it's a beautiful, beautiful shot - but I have to agree with Pedro above that the subject doesn't seem to fit in with the background. You've taught us so about motivated light and legible light - which may be more difficult to master than balancing ratios - that I must conclude that you specifically intended there to be a very strong separation of the subject from the background. She seems to be floating in a surreal (perhaps hyperreal?) space above and apart from the mere mortality of the rest of us. If you had intended otherwise, I would have expected a closer matching to background lighting, or perhaps some midground object to give dimensionality to an otherwise flat background.

January 03, 2011 5:48 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Histed said...

Beautiful lady in a beautiful picture: Interesting as always: I think I would go for her darker against the background, but as you often have said "add salt to taste". My nano-quibble doesn't however stop it being a very arresting beautiful image. I was curious and "for comparison" googled her, searching for "images", given she has an unusual (to me) name, and was struck how your (David's) image of her blows away every other picture google came up with, (many of which are pro photos) by a phenomenal amount: yours is in a different league, which was a great reminder of the mastery of the photographic form for which you have David, and as such made me realise that any of our thoughts of how "we might do it differently" should be viewed as personal introspection, of us as students, not criticism of your magnificent skills as photographer and teacher. Thank you--for teaching us to introspect in a constructive way, and not just want to copy, which would miss the point.

I have so missed your thought provocation during the holidays. Thanks for coming back to work--happy new year to you.

January 03, 2011 9:10 PM  
Blogger Rey Bugia said...

I did something similar about a month ago here: http://blueweedphoto.blogspot.com/2010/11/stretch-that-shutter.html . I used the 1 mainlight 2 rimlight setup (I know you're sick of it) using only 3 small flashes (v285hv, YN 460 and SB800) Got nice results but not as good as this. Thanks for sharing!

January 03, 2011 9:44 PM  
Blogger Aidan said...

Strobism at its most beautiful. I don't understand the "does not fit in with the background" comments - if she did she would be in near darkness!

January 03, 2011 10:57 PM  
Blogger PicsDallas said...

Got to admit I love it when the subject "floats" on the background.

I to very much enjoy when you post setup diagrams and photos of each stage of the light building process. Such as, and example of just the key, then the key and the rim, then a key, rim, fill complete example. I am still working on my "visualization" of the setup and these seem to help me. I understand in this case with a very short clock to work with it may not be possible but that kind of example get my vote.

Just my very humble opinion.

Thank you again for everything you share.

January 04, 2011 1:06 PM  
Blogger J. Thorpe said...

Great shot as always David, I did a jumping shot similar a few weeks back using a huge para and bare bulb light here:

lovely shot sir

January 04, 2011 3:59 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Great shot! Thank you! Just wondering where you placed your three lights and if you extended them up to where they were firing horizontally onto your subject.

January 04, 2011 6:20 PM  
Blogger JOEL said...

These are cool shots, David. I have had some success pushing the ambient light levels to the dark side with a tripod. You can see one example here This is a 20 second exposure with a handheld & hand-activated strobe and shoot-thru umbrella camera-right. There's no streaking because the subject is so dark at ambient levels. There is slight ghosting from the ambient snow patch in his legs, but I did pretty well to position him in front of a dark patch of trees.

January 04, 2011 11:28 PM  
Blogger S E S | PHOTOGRAPHY said...

Always a pleasure reading your post, the shot is amazing, great light and I love reading the details and your thoughts behind the shots you take...
Happy New Year!

January 05, 2011 12:01 PM  
Blogger Matt Lollar Photography said...

I really like this shot Dave particularly because of the contrast in colours. Her red dress against a blue sky looks awesome! Thanks for the post


January 06, 2011 6:39 AM  
Blogger david said...

Thanks, as always, for sharing, David. I agree with a commenter above that this looks too bright and overlit. It's a technical victory but not IMHO an aesthetic one.
Troubling: the hand coming out of the top of her head. The garment: not divine.
The highlight on her left foot.
That said, I'd still appreciate knowing what the ringlight looked like...
Thanks for allowing my comment...

January 06, 2011 6:25 PM  
Blogger Peter J. Hart said...

From 1925: http://www.shorpy.com/node/3667

January 19, 2011 10:55 AM  
Blogger hacksaw said...

Hi I'm looking to add a flash to my bag. Can anyone tell me if the lumapro lp160 will work with CTR-301p triggers? I've been searching the internet all after noon.

January 12, 2012 5:26 PM  

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