Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Ballerina Project

Spanning the Bridge

Doing personal projects as a photographer has many benefits.  One, it keeps you interested in shooting when some of the other jobs you do, might not be exactly, your own cup of tea.  Sure its better to be photographing almost anything if that's your passion but you don't always get to shoot the things you really want to be shooting, so personal projects can alleviate that and keep the passion flowing.

Another reason is, to get your work out to a different audience than you might otherwise do with commissioned work.  A few of my personal projects have led to some good exposure that opened up other opportunities for me.

Perhaps the best reason is... its fun!!!  Which brings me to round number two of a personal project I've been working on with the incredibly talented Amelia Gandara.  Amelia is a professionally trained ballet dancer and was also Miss University of Louisville 2013, in addition to being an incredibly intelligent woman too!  I've long had a fascination with ballet dancers and after seeing a few photos of Amelia years ago, I had the idea to photograph her doing classic ballet moves, but in an urban environment.  Since she was Miss UofL I thought what might be a great idea was to photograph her in front of iconic locations in Louisville, Kentucky.

This is the second round of this project, which is an ongoing effort to chronicle her skills and abilities throughout the great city of Louisville until we've knocked out every significant location we can think of... or get access to!

Choosing locations in Louisville is no easy task, simply because there are so many great venues to choose from.  The first location we shot at, was across the street from the 21C Hotel and Museum.  Not only is this one of the top ranked hotels in Louisville, but it also has an amazing art gallery of contemporary works and an award winning restaurant.  Driving by this location some time ago, you might not have noticed it, but with the addition of this gold statue of David out front, its pretty hard to miss and has become a pretty noticeable location in downtown...


Dancing with the Gilded Man

This photo was simply lit with an off camera flash to camera left in a shoot through, white umbrella.  The hard part to this shot was timing the traffic flowing down Main Street, and catching Amelia in the right part of the frame to make the shot work.  I couldn't have gotten this shot so easily (or any of the other photos in this project) without the assistance of fellow photographer, Don Lehman.

ReflectorOur next spot was the Kentucky Science Center.  Right out front of the entrance, they have this gigantic parabolic reflector and I knew I had to do something cool with this.  I quickly set up an off camera flash to camera left with no modifiers to test the light and shot a few frames.  The shots were ok, however not being one to give in easy on any location I thought it could use something else.  So I placed another off camera flash with a blue gel directly behind Amelia and just let it cascade blue light throughout the reflector.  The only hard part to this shot was hiding the light behind her and not having it flare the camera.  Of course when I say the 'the only hard part', I'm referring to what is hard for me.  If you think its easy to stand on your toes and strike such a beautiful pose as Amelia is, you obviously haven't tried it.  I did have to remove the feet of the light stand behind her in Photoshop.

With any of these photos, you can simply click on them for a larger view.

Louisville SluggerMoving on down the street we came to probably one of the most notable places in Louisville, the Louisville Slugger Museum.  This is where the world famous Louisville Slugger baseball bats are made and they have a museum full of baseball history and memorabilia that any fan is sure to love.  What is so noticeable about this location is the gigantic bat outside.  It is the world's largest bat at 120 feet tall and weighing in at 68,000 pounds!!

For this shot, the sun was coming down hard from camera right so I knew I would need some significant light to not let Amelia fall in to shaded darkness.  So, I placed a bare flash camera left at full power to just fill the shadow side of her.  Had I used a softbox or umbrella, I wouldn't have enough power to light her sufficiently.  In this case it worked.

Another thing to note is, that with every single location we worked in, Amelia and I were able to work with the environment to create a pose or move that accentuated or at the very least worked with the composition.  Each location had its own subtle differences so one pose that worked well in one location, might not do the same in another.  Those little differences can make or break an image.

In our efforts to find cool locations, we decided to look for higher ground.  I was wanting to do a shot of Amelia with skyline behind her (or at least part of it), so I knew we either had to get out of the city, which I was not willing to do at this point, or find a location with a wider field of view.  Cue a parking garage.  In any city, sometimes getting off the street can lead to more interesting pictures so a parking garage is always a good place to check out, just be cautious because not all parking garages will allow you take photos in them.  I *think* this was a public parking garage so we didn't have any issues... or possibly because we were there on the weekend, no one of particular authority noticed our presence. ;)

On the way up to the roof top of the garage, we noticed these cool arches above the walls and Amelia and I both thought this might be a cool background.  We parked the car, hopped out and without me even mentioning an idea, Amelia proceeded to climb up on the ledge and struck a pose.  This is highly worth mentioning, not only because its a testament to Amelia's desire to create some really cool shots, it also says something about her incredibly huge balls sense of bravery.  We were about 7 stories up in the air and that ledge was about two feet wide!!!  How's that for taking one for the cause?


I'm normally a "lighting guy" when it comes to photography but after seeing Amelia up there on that ledge and noticing her amazing form silhouetted by the sun light, I decided to not ruin what I was seeing by lighting her and instead, just shot what I saw with my eyes.  This shot was actually one of my favorites.  I wish the buildings would have worked better with this composition, but we had to work with what we had.  I don't think my assistant would have liked the idea of me asking him to move a few buildings so that we could get a better shot.

After we made it to the top of the garage, not knowing when to leave well enough alone, I had to get my trusty speedlights out for another lit portrait.  The light in this portrait was again, simply a bare speedlight to camera right and the only reasons I used it were to help freeze her motion and to simply fill in some shadows due to the ambient exposure I chose to use in camera.  Had I not used the flash, her body would have been in shadow like the area where her right foot is.

Amelia No. 14

This was essentially the shot I was after, as it showed some of the more notable buildings in downtown and also illustrated once again, Amelia's amazing athletic abilities.  To make this shot a little more awesome than it was, I simply got down on the ground to create more of an "illusion" that Amelia was soaring over the buildings.

This was an incredibly fun, second session of this project and I'm very excited our next shoot!

If you'd like to see more photos from this ongoing work, check out this album on my Flickr page!

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