Last week I spent an evening with a remarkable young dancer shooting dance and yoga inspired images at Crescent Beach in South Surrey, BC (A suburb just outside of Vancouver). We began shooting around 5:45pm, with a sunset scheduled for about 8:15pm. As you can imagine it was very bright out still.
Once of the biggest challenges in photography is that our eyes can see a much wider range of light than our cameras can. Our eyes may look at a beach at sunset and see detail in the rocks, in the sand, in the water, in the sky, etc. Our cameras, however, cannot see the detail anywhere near as well. If you have ever taken a photograph and had a white blown out sky behind a properly exposed image, or a properly exposed sky with everything in the foreground in total silhouette, you know what I am talking about.
The trick to making an image like the one above is to add flash. You expose for the sky in the background, which makes everything in the foreground go dark like this:
Then, you add flash to light up your subject, and get something more like this:
For this series I used the Fuji X100s, my go to camera for most shooting situations these days. I shot in manual mode, and set my exposure to underexpose the sky by a stop to bring in a little bit more colour (underexposure often adds a little saturation). The Fuji X100s was ideal for this evening because of it’s leaf shutter, allowing for faster shutter speeds to darken the sky a bit and prevent it from blowing out.
I then added an old Nikon SB-25 flash on a stand to camera left, shooting toward Marcela’s face. This was triggered wirelessly with Pocket Wizards.
Once you do it a few times it becomes very easy to expose a photograph like this. That is only the technical side of it though.
…and the technical side only gets you so far.
Henri Cartier-Bresson, considered by some to be the father of photojournalism and street photography, once described “The Decisive Moment”. This is what great photographs are all about.
Think of the iconic photographs we have in the world (the young JFK junior saluting his father’s casket, the little girl from Vietnam who was just burned with napalm walking toward the camera, the sailor in Time’s Square in NYC bending over the lady and kissing her when the war was finished)….. timing and emotion will always trump the technical.
Working with athletes as gifted as Marcela provides an almost unlimited amount of opportunity to practice shooting at the decisive moment. Sure these moments aren’t historical game changers, but athletes can typically repeat the same moment over and over, allowing you to refine your timing and capture the image you see in your mind.
Even more important though is trying to capture something as beautiful as dance in a still image…. not an easy task.
This was the image I wanted when I headed out that night. I wanted something dramatic that captured the beauty and power of this talented dancer, and I think we got it. There aren’t many summer sunsets left this year…. get out and shoot a few decisive moments too!