Freezing motion with architectural and dance photographer Nick Guttridge and the Profoto D2 | Profoto (UK)
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Freezing motion with architectural and dance photographer Nick Guttridge and the Profoto D2

18 January, 2019

Written by: Ailish Cook

Nick Guttridge’s life as a photographer began during his time studying Product Design at London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins, a world leading centre for art and design. Nick often photographed projects at art school and following his graduation in 1997, it was a natural step to pick up the camera professionally. Nick concentrated his work around recording interiors and exteriors for architects and designers, giving him wide recognition in the industry. However, since 2014, Nick has been using his camera to provide an architectural take to dance photography, in which he captures compelling compositions by freezing motion.

Growing up with architecture

Coming from a family of architects with his grandfather designing hospitals and father running his own practice, Nick realised early on that he didn't have the stamina to be an architect. However, he wanted to creatively serve the designers and architects somehow. It was a natural step to start photographing architecture after graduating art school, whilst also being able to assist other photographers in the architectural community.

During these beginnings, Nick realised that a more sensitive approach was required, with a more gentle eye. This inspired him to focus on responding to light, reflections, layers of transparency and movement in order to achieve an effective picture, qualities he brought to his dance photography much later on.

Oihana Vesga performing at Yuko Shiraishi at Annely Juda Fina Art, London.

A change in creative direction

After years of experience in architectural photography, Nick was given the chance to experience a new flair of creativity, when the opportunity arose to capture one of the most experienced dancers in London as part of an architectural comission.

“I was introduced to dance photography through a commission in 2014 from Allies and Morrison Architects to photograph the new home for the prestigious dance company Rambert, just behind the National Theatre on London’s Southbank.

To begin with, I photographed the building, with a limited opportunity to photograph movement and dance. As I got to know the company further, I was given the opportunity to work with Angela Towler, one of Rambert’s rehearsal directors.

That was an amazing experience. I used my technical camera to provide an architectural composition inside one of their studios, much like creating a stage compositionally. I used just one Profoto light to help illuminate Angela Towler.”

Angela Towler at Rambert, 2014.

Collaboration: A new opportunity

After using Profoto to light Angela in action at Rambert, Nick’s images made the cover of a leading architectural magazine, perhaps due to the mix of architectural composition, Profoto lighting and a wonderful dancer, resulting in a cover worthy image. This provided Nick with the confidence to explore further within dance photography, with other unexpected benefits too.

“It’s nice to collaborate. After years of being an architectural photographer, which I am still very much devoted to, it makes a refreshing change to have other people on my shoot. It has also improved all of my work including portraiture. I love to talk, learn, and share the experience.”

Dance photography has also introduced Nick to a different approach to capturing images, where the unexpected is positive and exciting and the process fascinating.

“Architectural photography is very singular, it brings out a different part of my personality. Dance photography is much more about teamwork, creating the right atmosphere for other creatives to work. Every time I come away from a dance shoot I realise that I could have never predicted how amazing it was going to be. Really, I just like the process, and the end result is proof that it happened."

Liam Francis

Owning the light

Due to the fast nature of dance and the need for balanced light, Nick keeps a simple approach that provides him with reliability when working with motion. Starting off with limited modifiers, gradually Nick has invested more and more, and now has six D2s, plenty of modfifiers, large stands and booms to help manoeuvre the lights above and around the dancers he captures.

"Each shoot is different, I could be working in a tight space like a 12 foot background splitting the lights between the background and the subject, or working within a larger studio and lighting a larger area. Each time I work, I take another step forward with understanding how small differences in position make a lot of difference. At the moment, I am renting studios or visiting dance studios. I really hope to have my own studio one day."

Dane Hurst

The Profoto D2 has proven essential when photographing fast paced motion, with its consistency and fast recycling together with short flash duration allowing for creativity and endless photographic possibilities.

"I still regard myself at the beginning of my journey learning about light. Within a relatively short time, I have progressed quite quickly. However, if I feel lost I will just go back to one light, a reflector and build up again. It's amazing how often one light looks best. I have learnt to shoot and adjust, as a small change can change everything, althought I like to keep the momentum going in shoot. I have also been exploring with gels recently.

Salmone Pressac & Joshua Bariwick

Conor Kerrigan, Aishwarya Raut & Hua Han

Shooting motion: Light shaping challenges

Traditionally, dance photographers will seek for the 'perfect moment', which could be when the dancer is in full reach. This often results in the photographer having to ask for the same movement to be frequently repeated.

Mthuthuzeil November

"I have witnessed photographers ask dancers to repeat the same movement more than ten times. It can make the shoot tiring. Perhaps because most of my shoots until recently have been for pleasure/progression/tests, I prefer to allow the dancer to improvise and find their flow, which means I need to keep up with them.

I have six D2s and they are fantastic. They are great in terms of short flash duration, and also for fast recycling, which takes the pressure off considerably. I often have two cameras working at the same time with the air remote. It is very unlikely that my assistant and I will shoot exactly at the same time, so one of us shoots wide on the Leica Q and the other shoots close on a FujiX100F. Both cameras have leaf shutters, so we normally shoot at 1/1000th of a second. If I need more resolution I can use a Fuji 50mp with Hasselblad glass as I did on a recent advertising shoot for Rambert.

Luke Ahmet from Rambert at Studio Wayne McGregor

I also have to admit that I love taking a burst of images, particularly when a dancer is twisting and turning. It's a fun way to work. Often though, I am not even looking through the camera as I like to have both eyes on the dancer. I don't want to experience the moment through the viewfinder, so, the cameras are clamped down on manual focus and all we have to do is touch the shutter. When the shoot is finished I often have a mountain of images. I then like to make videos (stop-motion) of the shoot as well as the stills.

Really, when shooting, the main challenge is coping with the dancer moving around so much, and unwanted shadows when shooting two or three dancers together. When I am working in a studio with no ambient light, I can use my Fuji XT2 with the air remote and TTL. This function has helped me speed up the process. It is fantastic to be able to shoot at 1/1000th of a second, I know this is also possible with Sony, Canon and Nikon."

Romany Pajdak, First Artist at the Royal Ballet

Lighting framework

Nick likes to make a plan, but understands he has to be flexible to ensure a successful shoot. Having some favourite modifiers, he frequently relies on the Magnum Reflector, several soft boxes with grids or two soft light reflectors with grids.

"I often draw a plan of the lights I think I will use beforehand. If I have a pre-production meeting with my client it is good to draw up an idea of where the lights will be. However, I have to be flexible, often on the shoot I can change things. Subtle differences can make a lot of difference to the result. It's all about fine tuning.

I often turn the lights down and work upwards, or revert back to one key light and introduce others one by one before I feel comfortable with the light. All of my stands are on wheels so I can move them around quickly.

One of the great things I learnt on a recent advertising shoot (Rambert) was how easy it was to include more Profoto lights. I rented Pro 10s which had a very similar menu to my D2s, so I just picked them up and they worked straight away. I didn't have to learn anything new, Profoto have made that transition so easy, which is a life saver on a shoot. I love the light from the Beauty Dish, it is very cinematic. The Magnum is great if you like crisp light, and I have also recently got into using the tele zoom reflector."

Nick's top tips to freeze motion

"Freezing motion is made a lot easier if you use a camera with a leaf shutter, especially if you are working in a studio with some ambient light coming in that you can't control. It is possible to use high speed sync with the Profoto Air TTL, especially if you are working with a background in a studio. Most of the time I am shooting 1/1000th of a second because I have found that the combination of a fast shutter speed and short flash duration helps freeze the hair, hands and feet well."

- Firstly, control the ambient light, then select 1/1000th of a second shutter speed or higher.

- Secondly, use Profoto D2s!

- Lastly, keep in touch with the dancer, try to shoot with both eyes on the subject with a shutter release.

Mthuthuzeil November

A special thanks to Nick for featuring in Profoto Stories! To see more of Nick's work visit his dance website or architectural website. Alternatively, take a look at his dance Instagram or architectural Instagram to see his latest work.

Written by: Ailish Cook

Products used in this story

OCF Color Gel Starter Kit

A kit with a Grid and Gel Holder and 10 popular gels

OCF Softbox Strip

Ideal for edge or rim lighting, used with off-camera flashes