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Freezing motion with architectural and dance photographer Nick Guttridge and the Profoto D2

18 July, 2018

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. Following his graduation in 1997, Nick concentrated his work around recording interiors and exteriors for architects and designers, giving him wide recognition in the industry. Since 2014, Nick has been using his camera to provide an architectural take on dance photography, in which he captures compelling compositions by freezing motion.

Growing up with architecture

Coming from a family of architects, Nick decided he didn’t want to be one from early on but “wanted to creatively serve the architects and designers somehow”. At the start of his career, Nick was able to assist local photographers in the architectural industry but wasn’t impressed with their photographic approach, as “they weren’t in touch with their subject and the architectural community”. Nick highlights the fact that it is a sensitive process to document architecture, and needs a gentle eye. For Nick, creating architectural photography is about “responding to light, reflections, layers of transparency and movement” in order to achieve an effective picture, something he brought to his dance photography.

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 a dance rehearsal director in action.  

“I was introduced to dance photography through a commission in 2014 from Allies and Morrison Architects to photograph the new home for the 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 Tower, 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.”

Collaboration: A new opportunity

After using Profoto to light Angela in action at Rambert’s, Nick’s images made the cover of a leading architectural magazine, providing him with a new direction, confidence and opportunity within motion photography. 

“It’s nice to collaborate. After years of being an architectural photographer, which I still continue to do, it makes a refreshing change and has improved all of my work including portraiture. I love to talk, learn, and share the experience.”

Motion 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 has many opportunities for unexpected images. I come away from a dance shoot realising that I could have never predicted how amazing it was going to be. Really, I just like the process, and the end result is interesting and is to be valued. However, it’s the process that interests me the most.”

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.

"I try to turn things down as much as I can when it comes to light, and if I feel lost I go back to basics and just use one light and a reflector. I do keep my lighting set-ups simple, which sometimes results in a magnum reflector up high on a boom with a triple wind up stand, along with some fill lights. I normally allow the dancers to have quite a lot of space to move in, so often I am lighting a whole room.”

The use of the Profoto D2s as fill lights allows Nick to balance the light, which is essential when photographing fast paced motion that creates unpredictable and sometimes harsh shadows. This allows for creativity and endless photographic possibilities.

"Obviously, with dance it is tempting to use two soft stop boxes on either side with grids, with a key light from above and slightly to the back. However, the options are endless. The difference of moving one light can change everything. Also, I have recently been exploring with gels.”

Shooting motion: Light shaping challenges

Nick’s Profoto D2s to provide flexible and reliable lighting, with a flash that enables motion to freeze with absolute sharpness through super quick bursts. Additionally, the D2 provides colour temperature consistency and is easy to use. The D2s allow Nick and his camera to keep up with fast movement and unpredictability.

“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. Traditionally, the photographer will seek for the ‘perfect moment’, which could be when the dancer is at full reach. This can be difficult to achieve, and results in the photographer having to ask for the same movement to be frequently repeated.

In contrast, I prefer to allow the dancer to improvise and find their flow, which means I need to keep up with them. 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 Fuji100F with a teleconverter zoom attachment. Both cameras have leaf shutters, so we normally shoot at 1/1000thof a second. If I need more resolution I can use a Fuji 50mp with Hasselblad glass.”

“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 have a mountain of images, and I then like to make motion videos of the shoot.”

“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. Obviously, if the dancer moves closer to any light I have to adjust my F stop on the go or use TTL. I have the Fuji XT2 with the Profoto Sync for TTL, although I am yet to explore more with it yet.”

Lighting framework: achieving natural luminosity

Throughout his journey as a photographer, Nick doesn’t use one particular light set up and prefers to decide this on the day, using Profoto umbrellas and soft boxes to achieve the perfect light.

“I try not to have a favourite lighting set up for shoots. However, if I think the shoot is getting too complicated I revert back to one key light. The magnum reflector is just like the sun really, I like using it up high. I also enjoy using my two 1x6 strip soft boxes. A large soft box or a large umbrella with a diffusor is also a perfect ‘North window’. If I am doing a high key shoot I love using lots of soft boxes and large umbrellas.”

Nick's top tips to freeze motion

Freezing motion is not easy, however, with the right approach can be made simpler. Nick believes that ambient light, artificial light and shutter speed all contribute to an effective motion image. Nick explains his top tips for controlling ambient lighting:

“Firstly, control the ambient light, which I achieve through a 1/1000thof a second shutter speed or higher. Secondly, use Profoto D2s! Lastly, try to shoot with both eyes on the subject with a shutter release.”

A special thanks to Nick for featuring in Profoto Stories! To see more of Nick's work visit his website or Instagram page.

Written by: Ailish Cook

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