Last Thursday was Heritage Day – and I was fortunate to have an opportunity to photograph two amazing dancers currently visiting Joburg – Elzanne Crause and Aaron Smyth. Elzanne recently wowed the South African audiences with her principal role in Spartacus of Africa – and Aaron did likewise with his principal role in Don Quixote and the fast paced gala solo: Feeling Good. Aaron is also a current contestant on America’s Got Talent
Click here for a short behind the scenes video
Well – it’s called Heritage Day – but perhaps in this case it would be more fitting to say Heritage “Night” – as we had agreed to make this an early sunrise shoot. The plan was for Elzanne and Aaron to use the rising sun as a backdrop while their stage floor would consist of the typical Joburg highveld. Hence – the alarm clocks had been set for a cruel and unusual 3:30 AM.
This particular shoot was actually a fundraiser item I’d previously donated to Friends of the Ballet. Kathleen Sowersby won the auction item and immediately re-donated it to Aaron and Elzanne. It turns out that Kathleen is not only an avid ballet fan but also an early riser herself – and she was indeed present as we all met at 5 AM – in almost complete darkness on an empty grass field north of Joburg.
Shooting a sunrise/sunset is exciting stuff. The light conditions change very rapidly – literally minute by minute. So from a photographer’s point of view – everything is rather dynamic and camera/flash settings need constant tweaking. But it’s most exciting because of the beautiful light. Often it’s a good idea to start out a few minutes before the sun actually rises – because that’s when some of the most vivid colours appear on the sky.
For the first part of our shoot – we obviously used the colours of the sky and the sun itself as a prop. I added a few strobes to put some light on the dancers – who would otherwise become dark silhouettes against the bright sky. We were all like giddy kids in a candy store – trying to accomplish as many things as possible while the sunrise lasted. It must have been a spectacle to see us run around like crazy on that field – and in fact we received a lot of cheers from other passerby’s – both bicycle riders and the occasional people on horseback.
For the second part of our shoot we shifted gear from sunrise to day light – and I put a simple canvas backdrop in the middle of the field. I find myself using this canvas backdrop quite often because I like the effect. It creates a frame within the frame, a small piece of calm in an otherwise busy background – and the image becomes almost surreal. In this particular case I really liked the quality of the black & white versions – maybe just as a reaction to the earlier very colourful sunrise images.