Cincinnati-based fine art and commercial photographer Aaron Conway was challenged to introduce the city’s ballet to a new and younger audience. His solution? Shoot the ensemble dancing in a location where the kids actually hang out.
Different photographers have different needs and different preferences. There are quite a few who value being able to shoot fast and on the fly. But there are also photographers such as Aaron Conway who prefers taking it slow and getting deep into the details.
“Patience is essential,” says Aaron. “Taking the time to build the right set and working on the lighting is critical. I’m always my worst critic and have realized that if you rush a shot you’ll always see it in the image.”
It is a surprising stance, considering some of the stuff that Aaron shoots. For instance, getting deep into the details seems to be a difficult thing to do when shooting the bustling activity of the Cincinnati Ballet.
“I like working with images that have more focused lighting,” replies Aaron when asked about the thinking behind his lighting setup. “There may be fill lights or accent lights, but I try to always have a strong main light in my images. I’ve always been drawn to images in which you can see the direction of the light. I think it creates an identity in the image, as if you were looking through the photographer’s eyes, seeing what they see.”
The purpose of the shoot was to show the Cincinnati Ballet in a new light. The ballet wanted to reach out to a younger audience and show people in their twenties-thirties that ballet dancers are, in fact, just like them. For instance, they go to the same places to eat and socialize.
“There is popular cocktail bar in Cincinnati called Japp’s that has a dancehall in the back called the Annex. That is where we shot the images. Since we wanted to reach out to a certain age group, we focused on making sure the location was recognizable. For instance, one of the distinguishable features of Japp’s is the projection on the back wall that plays a montage of old dancing movies. Including this in the images was very important.
“My overall goal was to achieve a realistic weekend night at Japp’s – an evening where everyone is having a good time! I didn’t want to focus too much on the ballet dancers. I’d rather just include them as any other person in the crowd.”
Aaron used five Profoto lights to light his set: three D1 500 Air monolights and two of the good old ComPact 600s. The lights were equipped with a Magnum Reflector, two Zoom Reflectors, a Seven Inch Grid Reflector and a Softbox RFi 5’ Octa.
“I knew right from that start that I wanted to light the dancers with the Magnum,” says Aaron. “It’s one of my favorite Light Shaping Tools. It throws such a powerful beam of light but is still very kind to skin. The Softbox RFi 5’ Octa was used as a general soft fill for the room, pulling up any areas that were completely shadowed. The Zoom Reflectors were used as edge lighting on the crowd. They were also gelled to create the mood of a weekend night with colored lights. Finally, the Seven Inch Grid Reflector was used to skim across the floor behind the crowd and dancers to add some separation between the dancer’s legs.”
“When it came to lighting the dance floor, one of the most important things to me was actually the back wall. As mentioned before, there is a projection there, playing a montage of dance scenes in old movies. It’s a very important feature at this location and crucial for tying it in to the audience we were trying to reach. I knew that this would require a long shutter speed, so determining my exposure for the projection was one of the first things I had to do.
“The next step was setting up the three backlights. I used two edge lights on c-stands with gels to color the room and create depth. I used a red/orange gel on camera right and a cool blue/purple on camera left. The third light was on a floor stand in the corner camera left, shining through the legs of the dancers, giving a little separation between all the people moving around.
“The Softbox RFi 5’ Octa was then used for a fill camera left to keep information in the shadows. Finally, the Magnum Reflector was on a superboom up at least 10 feet, zoomed in and angled down on the two ballet dancers.
The monolights Aaron used are not really designed to freeze motion, at least not in in the same way as a ten times as an expensive studio flash, such as a Pro-8 or Pro-B4. But rather than letting this become a problem, Aaron turned it into an advantage.
“I knew there would be a little motion blur but I completely embraced it,” he says. “Most of the images were shot with a shutter speed of one second or more. Looking at the results, I really enjoy the slight streaking that can be seen in some of the images. I think it gives a great feeling of motion to a still image. There is also a slight ghosting of the projection on the dancers that I also enjoy. I try to always create everything I can in camera and to stay away from compositing. In my mind, a composite image never has quite the same feeling. The natural blending of the colors and dancers is actually one of my favorite things about these images.”
See more of Aaron’s work at his website.
Learn more about the D1 monolight here.