Save up to 60% on all Fstoppers tutorials

BTS: Combining Strobe and Continuous Lighting for a Dancer Studio Portrait

If you're not a professional photographer, chances are that you may be under the impression that they do little more than take pictures all day, every day. While we definitely know that's not the case — I'm probably only actually shooting for around 20 percent of my work week, and running a business for the other 80 percent — that's not what I wanted to portray when I got asked to be "job shadowed" by an eighth grade girl a while back. I decided to make the day at least a little more interesting.

Instead of having my shadower sit and watch me answer emails, send contracts, post to social media, check my bank accounts, corral batteries and memory cards, or even write for Fstoppers, I decided to have a little fun in the studio. I had been thinking about trying my hand at combining strobe lighting with continuous lighting in the studio, and wanted to give it a shot. So, I put out a call on my Facebook page looking for a dancer who would be free to come in and model for a couple of hours in exchange for images, and this is what I came up with.

Putting her against a dark gray seamless paper, I set up four lights: one Paul C. Buff Einstein strobe with a beauty dish high on the left angled down, another Einstein with a 10x36-inch gridded strip box lower towards the back left, another Einstein with a 10x36-inch gridded strip box low on the right, and a continuous light that I borrowed from a friend on the right (the make and model of which I don't even remember).

Testing lights with an eighth grade job shadower can be fun.

My theory was that I could do a long exposure, and do a combination of strobe flashes to freeze her, and continuous lighting to capture her movement. It took some trial and error, but it worked out for a spur-of-the-moment play day in the studio. I figured out that for the look I wanted, there were a set of things that had to happen in a certain order so that I could get the image all in one shot. I set the camera for a long exposure, then once the shutter opened (Nikon D800 at ISO 100, f/10, 6 sec), I triggered the high beauty dish and rear left strip lights manually after posing the dancer. Then, I told her to move any way she wanted, as long as she ended up at the floor facing towards the strobe on the right. While she was moving, I used the continuous light to "paint" her as she progressed towards the floor, and when she was seated and still, I had the shadower manually trigger the strip box light on the right. Beauty dish strobe and rear strip, then continuous light on for painting, then strip box strobe to finish it off.

The trickiest part of it all was the timing. Once the lighting theory was set, it was just a process of doing it multiple times to get something I thought looked nice. I could have played all day, but alas, my eighth grader had to get back after lunch, so we spent the rest of our time editing the images in Lightroom and Photoshop so she could see a little bit of that process, and came up with this final image. For some reason, I liked the square format, which is rare for me.

Much better than watching me pay my monthly sales tax, right?

Log in or register to post comments


Justin Berrington's picture

Is it possible to achieve the same results using rear curtain sync for your strobes for the shot on the left and first curtain sync for the image on the right and then composite the two?

Stephen Ironside's picture

It may be, but I was just trying to get it all in one shot. I also only turned on the continuous light after the first two strobes fired, and then turned it off right before the third one fired. Compositing opens up lots of possibilities, of course. :)

Justin Berrington's picture

Sounds like it was a fun time and a great exercise in what's possible without the use of compositing. I really like the outcome. It's definitely something I'd put on my wall if I were her.

m d's picture

great lighting article
Here is our photography blog check it out for news and popular photos

Swissblad --'s picture

Fun post, thanks - have been toying around with similar ideas as well using rear curtain sync - your approach gives a bit more flexibility - will give it a try.

Seth Taylor's picture

I love that you did it all in camera, very cool image

Mark Bowers's picture

Very good technique, thank you for sharing

Viktor Toth's picture

i tried to do something like this for our music school

Stephen Ironside's picture

Sweet. Love the black and white.

Edgar Pereira's picture

Love this technique, did something like this last year...

Stephen Ironside's picture

Yep, very similar idea, just no pop at the end. I like it though!

Bert Nase's picture

As Joe McNally showed in his On Assignment Volume1 course...