UPAA Blog 2021-22 #16 - 4/7/22 (photos and text by Nate Edwards)

Nate Edwards is photography manager at BYU and a three-time UPAA Photographer of the Year. His General Features and Illustrations category photo "Winter Ballet" was voted Best in Show in the March 2022 Monthly Image Competition. (All four of Nate's entries placed in the March contest.) The MIC Q&A is a monthly feature on the UPAA blog to learn more about the thought and craft behind the UPAA's contest-winning images. -Ed.


1. Quick tech stuff—camera model, focal length, exposure data, lighting used (if any):

  • Canon R5, RF 70-200 f2.8 @ 104mm 
  • f/2.8, 1/4000, ISO 200
  • 2 Profoto B10+ lights with parabolic reflectors
  • Leaf blower

2. How did this shoot land on your calendar? Did you have a plan/vision prior to the shoot?

The dance department approached Jaren about working on a book with them where we would capture photos of dancers around campus in different settings and different seasons to showcase the department. We had some success in the fall getting some nice shots but had been waiting for a good snowstorm for some winter imagery. We made sure to watch the forecast very closely, and the dance department had specific dancers ready on standby just in case it actually snowed. Jaren had scheduled a shoot the evening before in anticipation of the snow, but when we saw in the morning that conditions were going to be perfect, we scheduled 4 more shoots with different groups to cram in that morning. It's been rare for us to have a nice snowfall recently and has been even more rare to have a nice blue sky in the morning along with the fresh snow.

Jaren has been spearheading this project and when I went into work that morning, I had no idea I was going to be taking these photos. The scheduling was all very last minute. Jaren was on another dance shoot off campus and asked if I could run over and meet a ballet dancer in this particular area. It seemed like a chaotic morning as we were trying to get all five of these photo shoots done before the sun got too high, especially since we didn't know if it was going to snow again this season. I grabbed my camera and some lights from the office and went over, not knowing what I was going to be doing.

3. Any unique logistics in making the photo? What sort of post processing (or not)?

In situations like this when I am rushed and shooting something I was not expecting, or even when I get frustrated with a shoot that isn’t going right and I can’t figure out why, I try to have a system in place that I can go back to, to keep me from getting overwhelmed. I try to only focus on one thing at a time.

1st- What is my background or frame?

2nd- Where do I want my subject in my frame and what are they doing?

3rd- Camera settings.

4th- How do I want to light it?

I found if I can just focus on one thing at a time, it helps me work through situations more effectively and systematically. The more I have done this, the more I feel like I am able to take these steps simultaneously. I thankfully had enough time to look around and find what I felt was a good spot before the dancer arrived and we started taking photos.

A couple vertical options

I intentionally chose the location because it was backlit by the sun. The trees framed her nicely and added depth to the photo, and the hill elevated the dancer to isolate her against the background. I wanted a shallow depth of field to minimize distractions in the background, and my ambient to be a little bit underexposed so the light on the dancer could be just a little brighter to try and match the highlights from the sun hitting the snow. I made a path for the dancer to walk on the backside of the hill so she could avoid the deep snow in her ballet shoes. We tried not to be out there too long so she didn’t get too cold even though I felt like the dancer was more excited to be there than she was freezing. She seemed like she was all about getting some cool photos (pun intended).

A quick warm-up during the shoot

I just used the ambient light as my fill light, and then placed my key light off to the right of frame. I later decided I wanted to add a rim light just to add a little more separation from the background. Initially, I was using a 2x3 soft box for my key light but eventually switched to using parabolic reflectors for my key and rim so I could get a little more power out of the lights. If I remember right, the Profoto B10+’s were maxed out on power. (I could have gotten more power if I did not use high speed sync, but I wanted to keep my shallow depth of field, so the background didn’t become too busy and distracting. Hence my shooting at F/2.8 @ 1/4000, ISO 200 instead of f/13 @ 1/200, ISO 200.)

Eventually some of our students and Jaren showed up to assist as well. I'm glad they did because they also brought the leaf blower with them that Jaren had been using on his other shoot. The students would put snow on a foam core board and then use the leaf blower to blow it into the background from behind the dancer. It was something small, but I felt it added just the right magical touch. They put the snow on the foam core board because it seemed to blow better off of that than trying to just blow the snow right off the ground.

The lighting before Nate switched it around to put the key light on the left.

For this particular shot, I had switched my key light and rim light to opposite sides because of the direction she was facing. I wanted the light to be on the “short side” of her face. I felt like in the 30 minutes we were out there we had plenty of photos that could be used, so we called it so she could warm up, even though she said she was good.

Nate's Adobe Camera Raw develop settings

4. Did your vision before you made the photo come through in the final product? What (if anything) would you do differently if you could re-shoot this today?

  1. Get more variety, like moving closer to get a nice portrait, also shoot with an 85mm f/1.2 to get an even shallower depth of field or even stepped back further and compressed the image more at 200mm, or maybe even gotten her to have a different colored dress to change into to get a little more variety that way as well.
  2. Because of the nature of that morning, I did feel pretty rushed and would have liked to slow down and be more intentional with the images I got. I didn’t bring the iPad with me to tether my images, but that is one way that helps me slow down and see things that I don’t see on the back of my camera. It also is helpful to have Jaren or one of the students looking at it while shooting so they can point out things I may miss in the rush of the moment.
  3. Get some really nice video to do a full length behind the scenes shoot (and include other elements of the project throughout the year).

Overall, this was a great team effort from the dance department, to the dancer, to the good Lord bringing us snow, to Jaren and the students coming on the shoot to help out, and even bringing the leaf blower with them! I would have never thought of that, but it added a great extra dimension to the photo.

The leaf blower is visible in the lower left corner.


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