Castello Ceconi

Photo courtesy of Vicky Street

This was my fifth year at South Africa’s Photo and Film Expo so you might be excused for thinking that there’s not much more I can tell you about the experience. But no. This year’s Expo was rather different. Instead of the 45 minute talks on stages around the Dome, the organisers gave me a variety of other ways to connect with the audience. One of them was a practical dance photography demonstration in the open air environment of the venue’s amphitheatre.

An ideal location for showing photographers how to overpower harsh sunlight and freeze movement using flash, the concrete amphitheatre has no shade and is completely open to the elements. Springtime in Johannesburg is generally very warm but, perversely, the forecast was unsettled on the first day of the show and we fully expected rain. Not, as you will appreciate, what we wanted for this particular live demo.

In the end, conditions were good; we got our glorious sunshine. It was a bit breezy but the rain didn’t materialise and I could actually use the clouds to add drama. The gods were smiling.

Good luck indeed but even better than perfect weather, I had assistance from my great friend, Richard Cook, owner of Flashback Studios in Johannesburg. Flashback is a Profoto reseller and hire centre. We decided we would go all out with four Profoto B1 heads with a mixture of reflectors and, to soften the light a little, a large, double-skinned scrim. With the help of Richard, a couple of willing helpers I meet up with every year at the show and a fair few sandbags to counter the wind, we set up the lights.
Next job: to meter the ambient light. As the shot shows, with my exposure at 1.5 stops under, the sky is dark and moody. In the short behind-the scenes video, you can see how the sky would have looked without underexposure.

I was trying to keep underneath the camera sync speed of 1/250 to ensure that I got maximum power from the Profotos. The first test shot with our dancer, Alexa, with the scrim in place, looked pretty good but the lights were running at almost full power so I decided to try it without the scrim. This gave me around about two more stops from the Profotos.

Next, we tried some jumps. Because our lighting was almost a 50/50 flash-to-ambient mix, with the majority of the flash lighting her upper body, I could see we would need to do some tweaking. The feet, which were the fastest moving part of the image, were lit by ambient light and the shutter speed of 1/125 was causing considerable blur in this area. Normally, I would avoid high speed sync as it reduces flash power considerably. However, with the Profotos switched to high speed sync and freeze mode, I was able to push the shutter speed up to 1/1000 and then to 1/1600 which removed the blur from the feet with no noticeable decrease in flash power. This is where the Profoto B1s are just amazing. Their ability to provide loads of power with high speed sync means you can capture dramatic dance shots that would be hard to achieve with alternative lighting solutions.

The amphitheatre proved to be a great location for the live demo. The audience were able to get right up close to the action so that they could watch the process closely from start to finish. There was much interest and plenty of questions. A great way to end the first day of the Expo.

The Audience