Dancing with a Shadow

Both photographs and dance have an innate capability to tell and convey stories and ideas, as with any kind of art form. I have always wanted to portray a story through dance and photographs. Being able to fuse both art forms have always intrigued me because of the many factors involved. How does one art portray another in tandem and with accuracy? I want to explore these ideas. Therefore I asked my dancer friends Marissa Mes and Rafa Siguion-Reyna to model for me. Marissa was part of the final competitors in So You Think You Can Dance in Holland.

The concept for this series was the idea of “letting go”. Letting go of a loved one is always a difficult ordeal. However, it doesn’t mean that you have to let go of everything. One thing you can keep are the great memories that you have of them.

For the shadows of the models in the background, I used a similar technique from one of my older composites. I first took a photo of the models doing the lift together and then a separate one with them reenacting the lift by themselves. I then created a silhouette of the dancers together and used that as the shadow behind the solo dancer. 

For this post, I wanted to focus on how I was able to completely simulate a backlit and ethereal effect using photoshop. This is the original photo taken without any post-processing. I originally wanted a lot of backlight for this series but lacked the amount of natural sunlight due to the cloudy weather.

In Photoshop, I simply created a new layer and used white colored large soft round brushes (0% hardness) with 40% opacity and built it up. I used the color white because I would have more control of its color in Lightroom which would be the last step.

I also added shadows to give it a more realistic look. For this, I added another layer and used the lasso tool to create a rough shape of the shadow then used the radial gradient tool and used the soles of the feet as the center. I finished it up with the Gaussian Blur tool and decreased its opacity.

I then used the masking tool as you can see on the screen shot, to start removing the white on the subjects. I used the round brush with 100% hardness in the inner side of the models then changed it to around 40% hardness around the edges. This simulates a rim light effect to make it look more natural.

Finally, the last step is editing the colors and the contrast using Lightroom. I gave it a warm color to further simulate the light effect. I also increased the clarity of the subjects using the adjustment brush, isolating the effect from the background. Here is the final image:

I edited these photos mainly using Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom 4. I also used Portrait Professional Studio for retouching. If you have more questions on how I produced these images, feel free to comment here or post on my wall on facebook.

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Defying Gravity

I want to start of this blog discussing my first ever planned photo shoot, entitled “Defying Gravity”. It was taken in the November of 2010. In a nutshell, this shoot inspired me to become a full blown photographer. I will always have a soft spot for this set and it will always remain my most prized works of art.

It started off as one of my IBHL Visual Art pieces. Having the background of traditional art helped me escalate my skills of story telling because I was exposed to the process of brainstorming and creating thumbnails. This aids me in visualizing the outcome before I even start the shoot. Do not underestimate these skills and practice them as much as possible.

For this shoot, I asked my crew mates from my breakdance crew, Riot Kings to model for me. The idea was simple, to create images that will make the audience question the reality of it. I have always had an infatuation with the power of photography and this was its embodiment. I thought that dancers would best portray this idea because dancers are able to defy gravity or at least to their audience’s perception of gravity.

This was our first shot of the series:

“Defying Gravity”

“Defying Gravity”

My lack of photoshop and photo-manipulation skills ended up as an advantage because I was forced to set the shots up without any composites, which made it much more real. For this shot, it took about 50 tries to get the one we wanted. Here is the raw file to prove that it is not a composite:

Nikon D90, Shutter Speed of 1/200, Aperture f/5.6

Nikon D90, Shutter Speed of 1/200, Aperture f/5.6

When you are just starting off as a photographer, your camera’s settings is usually the hardest to understand and master. However, knowing it and practicing it will be your most essential tool. For this shot, I used a shutter speed of 1/200. Even though it seems as if there was a lot of light for this shot, I was still shooting indoors and there was still not enough light for me to go faster than 1/200 without increasing ISO (which in return, would increase noise). Fortunately, 1/200 is already enough for me to freeze all the motion. It may sound basic but the faster your shutter speed, the more you can freeze action. Also, when you are holding your camera by hand, it makes your image sharper and clearer because you are also stopping the motion of your own body.

I did a lot of experimentation with this shoot, which left a lot of room for error. However, those experiments are what paid off the most. Do not be afraid to experiment, especially when you are just getting started. You learn so much from it. The biggest risk I took was shooting against the light. I was just starting out so I did not know much about lighting. However, I was able to save most of the detail on the faces using Lighroom 3. I increased “Fill Light” and decreased “Black”. I also increased “Clarity”. This created a lot of noise in the image, which I was able to decrease using “Luminance”. Same technique was used for this photo:

“Without Boundaries”



The most important lesson I took from this shoot is the importance of having a concept. Art has been, and is still currently going through a paradigm shift, in which the balance of concept and technique are being weighed. However, concept is much more important when it comes to my own personal opinion. Learn how to conceptualize first. Technique will follow. You need to create depth behind your art to keep your audience interested.

Its a relief being able to finally write all of that down. I hope you guys enjoyed my first blog post and I promise there will be a lot more coming up soon.

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