Capturing Long Exposure Dance Pictures at Salt Air on the edge of the Great Salt Lake.

By Kristin Jones, Any Angle Photography

As a Utah Senior Photographer I wanted to incorporate long exposure photography and dancing to create epic senior pictures for this Utah high school graduate. Imagine the vast, reflective surface of the Great Salt Lake, with a lone dancer illuminated against the twilight sky. This lake is very shallow and this unique landscape gave us an opportunity for innovative long exposure techniques.  Salt Air is located close to Salt Lake City and was the perfect spot to create these images. I studied Eric Paré’s methods and used his techniques to create these magical images of a dancer at sunset and into the blue hour.  

Essentials for the Shoot

Watch Eric Paré tutorials

Youtube:  https://www.youtube.com/@Ericpare/videos

 Website:  https://lightpainting.art/tutorials

  Practice beforehand.  

Light painting takes time to learn.  It’s harder than it looks.  I spent a few nights before this photoshoot practicing in my backyard using my husband as subject.  

Communicate with the model.    We spent roughly 90 minutes getting these images.  The majority of that time the dancer was standing in the water and holding very still during the long exposures.  

1. Equipment:

  • Camera: Mirrorless camera with manual settings. I used my Sony A1.  
  • Lens: A wide-angle lens (16-35mm) to capture both the dancer and the expansive salt flat. I used a Sony 35mm 1.4.  
  • Tripod: A sturdy tripod is essential to keep the camera stable during long exposures. Keep the tripod low, just a couple feet off the ground and photograph from a low angle.  
  • Remote Shutter Release: To minimize camera shake. Trigger that Eric recommends is Yongnuo RF-603C II Wireless Flash Trigger Kit – https://amzn.to/3LaTLGG
  • Light Sources: Portable LED lights or light tubes for illuminating the dancer. I used the white tube from Eric Paré  Outdoor Starter Kit which includes tubes and flashlight – https://lightpainting.store/collections/light-painting-tubes/products/starter-kit
  • Headlamp to see what I was doing in the dark and a Lanyard tied to the trigger around my neck to keep the trigger available and away from the water.   

Preparing for the Shoot

1. Scout the Location

  • Choose a flat, open area on the shoreline to provide a clear background.
  • Twilight (both morning and evening) provides the best light for this technique.

2. Plan Your Composition

  • Positioning the Dancer: Place the dancer centrally or along a leading line to create a dynamic composition.
  • Reflections: Utilize the reflective surface of the shallow water to enhance the visual impact.
  • Golden and Blue Hours: The periods just after sunrise and just before sunset (golden hours) and the twilight hours (blue hours) provide soft, flattering light.
  • Clear Skies vs. Clouds: Clear skies offer clean reflections, while scattered clouds can add dynamic movement in the sky.

Setting Up

1. Camera Settings

  • ISO: Set to its lowest value (100 or 200) to reduce noise.
  • Aperture: Use a moderate aperture (f/8 to f/16) for a wide depth of field.
  • Shutter Speed: Start with a shutter speed of 10-30 seconds. Adjust based on the desired effect and light conditions.  For extremely long exposures (1-2 minutes), use the Bulb mode on your camera.
  • Manual Mode:  Set the focus then use the remote shutter release to take the shot.  

2. Light Painting:

  • Eric Paré’s technique involves light painting, where light sources are moved during the exposure to create streaks and patterns of light around the subject.
  • Have the dancer hold the light tube turned off while you set up the camera. Walk to the dancer, take the light tube and trigger the remote shutter.  Turn the light tube on and experiment with different movements to see what patterns emerge.
  • Wear black to stay invisible.  

Capturing the Shot

1. Stabilize Your Camera

  • Ensure the tripod is stable. Use a remote shutter release or camera timer to avoid any shake. Set up at a low level.  2-3 feet off the ground.  

2. Light the Dancer

  • During the exposure, you or an assistant can move the lights around the dancer’s body, creating trails of light. In my case I had the dancer hold the tube light while I set up the camera, then I walked to the dancer’s location, took the light, put her in position then turned the light on and painted.  
  • Keep the dancer very still to ensure they remain sharp while the light trails create a sense of motion.
  • Experiment with different speeds and directions of light movement to achieve varying effects.

3. Experiment with Movements:  Start with a simple circle.  Once you have that down, move the light wands in different ways behind the dancer.  

Post-Processing

1. Enhance Light Trails:

  • Use software like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to adjust the brightness and contrast of the light trails.
  • Enhance colors to make the light patterns more vivid.

2. Refine Details:

  • Use noise reduction tools to clean up any noise from the long exposure.
  • Adjust the sharpness and clarity of the dancer and the surrounding environment.

Conclusion

Capturing senior pictures with long exposure photographs of a dancer at the Great Salt Lake using Eric Paré’s technique was an endeavor. It was a lot harder than it looked but with time and practice we were able to create magical images. With careful planning, the right equipment, and a bit of experimentation, you’ll be able to transform your light painting vision into reality. So grab your gear, head to the Great Salt Lake and let the dance of light begin.

Check out the Behind the Scenes Video on Youtube: https://youtu.be/I8VALD1HSR4

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