Fun with Flour – Dance Photography shoot – In-depth guide

For quite some time I’d wanted to have a go at a flour photography shoot involving dancers. I’m obviously not the first photographer to come up with the idea but if something seems fun and creative then it makes me want to have a go.

High speed flash flour photography
Kirsty, Keith and Fern synchronised flour throwing.

Preparation for a shoot like this would be key. I wanted to shoot in our studio so that I would have full control over the environment and lighting but knew this would be a very messy shoot to clean up. I also wanted to shoot against a black background but this needed to be wide enough and tall enough to allow the dancers to jump and throw the flour without it clearing the background. We tried to work out which would be the most cost effective and simplest way to turn our white Infinity Cove to black. In the end we thought we’d cover the Cove in Lastolite Black background paper. It took 3 rolls so it still wasn’t a cheap exercise but we still believe this was quicker and cheaper than painting it black and then back to white.

Dancer Keith Garlick interacting with flour.
Dancer Keith Garlick interacting with flour.

I photographed a dancer called Kirsty Clare a couple of months ago and we’d briefly chatted about the idea of the flour shoot, which she seemed really keen to do. As the shoot was getting nearer she mentioned that two of her fellow dancers would love to get involved, one being her boyfriend Keith Garlick, who I’d also previously photographed and the other was a fellow dancer, Fern Maia.

So I had the dancers sorted, the black studio and 10 bags of sieved flour. I just needed to decide how I was going to light it all.

Dancer Fern Maia tuck jumps covered in flour
Dancer Fern Maia tuck jumps covered in flour

Initially I was going to light the shoot using Bowens Gemini 500’s but at the last minute swapped to shoot using a pair of Yongnuo YN-560 IV’s fired by their YN-560TX trigger. The reason for this change was due to the flash duration. I figured that the Yongnuo’s set at a low power would have a shorter flash duration than the Bowens heads, I think I read somewhere that the Bowens had a duration of 1/900th sec and the Yongnuo’s as fast as 1/20,000th sec so stopping the flour mid air would be better using the speedlights.

Lighting diagram for our flour dancer photography shoot
Lighting diagram for our flour dancer photography shoot

I kept the lighting as simple as possibly, there’s no point having more light than required. So 2 speed lights fitted on stands one fitted with a Bowens S type adapter. The one with the adapter had a  Bowens standard 55 degree reflector, the other was bare tube. I wanted to backlight the flour to separate it from the background so had the flash with reflector behind the dancers. The key light was level with the dancers. You can see roughly from the lighting diagram above. I had 2 large 8ft x 4ft black poly boards flagging off the light to prevent lens flare/light spill.

Glen's main job - sieving flour onto Kirsty - Flour Photography Shoot
Glen’s main job – sieving flour onto Kirsty

So with all the preparations sorted, the afternoon of the shoot arrived, now the fun would really begin. When Kirsty, Keith and Fern arrived we had a quick sit down to discuss the best approach for the shoot. We’d start with a bit of flour and then add more if required. It’s worth saying that as well as being skilled dancers they were a good laugh and well up for getting messy.  Before shooting with the flour each pose or jump would be demonstrated so I could get an ideas of where the flour would go and what shape the dancer would make. From this I would have a composition in mind, prefocus on where I thought the pinnacle of the move would be and whether to shoot from the ground or up ladders.

Keith decided to go first, the music was pumping and off we went.

You’ll have to forgive my lack of dance movement naming but I believe the move below is a Pike Jump. I love the shape formed by both Keith and flour, it almost looks like gun. As with a lot of the final images I had intended to add colour to the flour in Post Production to add further visual impact. I call the shot below ‘Rainbow Warrior’.

I like to call this one 'Rainbow Warrior' - Keith Garlick - Flour Photography Shoot
I like to call this one ‘Rainbow Warrior’ – Keith Garlick

As mentioned earlier I had the flashguns set at 1/64th power which gives a very short flash duration, this really froze the dancers and the flour. I shot using a Canon 6D & 24-70mm f2.8 L lens. To get the exposure I needed (I didn’t want to have to shoot wide open) I had to up the ISO to 640 but on a 6D this is fine. Fastest flash sync via the controller was 1/160th sec. So exposure was 1/160th f7.1 ISO 640. Just for those interested 🙂

Purple Pike Jump - Keith Garlick - Flour Photography Shoot
Purple Pike Jump – Keith Garlick

All 3 dancers were very versatile so I knew we could experiment with different jumps and poses, singularly and also see how things looked in pairs or all together. So it was then just a case of flouring them up and taking the photo. Unlike outdoor photography where you can set the camera to shoot at multiple frames per second, in the studio due to flash recharging time you’ve one chance at each jump, so timing is key.

Fern flicking back her hair - Flour Photography Shoot
Fern flicking back her hair

One of the problems of a flour photography shoot, is obviously the mess. The perfect approach would have been to clear the flour from the floor after every shot, in reality as this was a fun project this would have both killed the atmosphere and added hours to the shoot. To compensate for the messy flour I decided to add a ‘floor’ in post-production and by blending this in Photoshop you can still see the flour on the black floor but it blends with the floor boards and adds a bit of grunge. Personally I think it works as a work round for not having a clean floor.

Colour added to Kirsty's hair - Flour Photography Shoot
Colour added to Kirsty’s hair.

The hair flick photographs worked really well but for me it was the jumps that I wanted to capture as I knew they would be more difficult to time correctly and hopefully would be the most impactful.

So to finish off with here are 2 of my favourite ‘jump’ photographs from the session. First one of Fern pulling off a great jump.

Fern pulls off a great jump - Flour Photography Shoot
Fern pulls off a great jump

Final image I think is my personal favourite, I love Kirsty’s pose, the rim lighting has worked well through the flour and I added some colour.

Great jump from Kirsty - Flour Photography Shoot
Great jump from dancer Kirsty Clare

Flour Photography Shoot Thanks

A final thank you to everyone involved in this project, the whole flour photography shoot was fun from start to finish.

The dancers – Kirsty Clare, Fern Maia and Keith Garlick were a joy to work with and not only did they make great models to capture, they helped with coming up with new ideas for different poses to get the best pictures.

What a day in the studio for the whole Vivid team, not only did we capture the images that we wanted, we also shot a video which gone on to have 1000s of views. If you would like to find out more about our commercial photography service, then please visit our photography page or to read some photography based blogs, please click on the link to visit our photography blogs. Please feel free to call the Vivid team on 0161 477 2404.