Convergence Design - The Concept
When creative mediums converge, the end result can yield something greater than the sum of its parts. You do not have to search far on the internet to find some outstanding examples. There is the blending of audio and visual in the music video “My Recurring Dream” (by director André Chocron and featuring the music of Cold Mailman) that mixes haunting lyrics and melodies with visual techniques including a constantly moving camera, underwater shots, and some visual effects trickery to create a piece that feels like moving through a dreamscape. Then there is the creative dad running the site Lunchbox Dad who merges culinary with pop culture to entice his kids to eat healthier lunches.
In drawing inspiration for my own convergence project, I have always enjoyed merging the visual mediums of photography and video with the performance of dance to capture the energy of movement and the body of a performer. I appreciate the way a still image can capture a dancer’s form with a high shutter speed exposure. Video, on the other hand, allows the fluidity of movement to be expressed over time. The question that starting banging around in my head became, “What would be an effective way to capture form and movement in one fell stroke?”
Before you jump in with, “Have you tried a slower shutter speed with a tripod?” let’s think about what is being expressed with that technique. Slowing down the shutter certainly allows for movement to flow within an image. There can even be some abstract forms that happen within that motion, and I have used it to that effect. What it fails to do, in my experience, is express the crispness of form and shape that performers have spent their lives perfecting.
In addition to using the traditional slow shutter, I added two light sources. In order to freeze the performers (Catherine Hayes and Chelsey Shaner), I used an off-camera flash unit to freeze each dancer at the height of her action. This meant dialing the power of the flash down as I was dealing with an increase in exposure from the shutter settings. Now the performers' forms began to appear. In order to reveal the movement, I employed a set of EL Wire lights, ala Tron Legacy light suits, attached to each dancer as a second light source. All this required a very dark dance studio with the windows and doorways blacked out.
The first couple of takes we did without the flash unit to get an idea of how the EL lights would show up moving at different speeds during 8-20 second exposures. These exposures were abstract light paintings that hinted at the dancer’s forms as they moved through the exposure.
The light paintings in themselves were a lot of fun and varied according to how fast the dancers moved and when they decided to hold a pose. I used a wide Tokina 11-16mm lens to give a larger margin for error for keeping the movements in the frame as I couldn’t see through the optical viewer during the exposure.
Next up, we broke out the flash. I started off using a Nikon SB-600 speedlight flash bare bulb. I counted down the exposure out loud and asked the dancer to hold just before the end of the exposure, then manually fired the flash. This worked, but I noticed the Chelsey’s skin was a little sheeny (most likely from all the dancing) and handheld the flash inside of a softbox for the rest of the shoot.
What did we end up with?
It turned out better than I would have hoped for. This was intended to be a test shoot, but we ended up with a lot of keeper images. I will put this down to the talent, grace, and patience of Catherine and Chelsey, and the pretesting I did with my wife and an LED headlamp. I will not be posting those images here as I love my wife too much. She is a trooper. A lot of praise goes to the on-the-spot movements the dancers came up with. It is always a pleasure to collaborate with people who have honed their craft and are keen to push a concept further.
What else can be done with this technique? If the hordes of light-painting images are any indication, I think we will be seeing this used, with and without flash added, in many applications. Since completing this shoot, I have run across at least one other use of lights highlighting motion for some outdoor activities. What other ways have you seen attached lights used to emphasize motion?