DPP Home Profiles Douglas Dubler: Master Of Balletic Motion

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Douglas Dubler: Master Of Balletic Motion

Douglas Dubler’s work with dance and ballet began almost 40 years ago. His latest images capture the beauty of the art through meticulous timing, lighting and artistic vision.

This Article Features Photo Zoom

The composite image of Irina Dvorovenko as both White Swan and Black Swan. The digital work on this image took approximately 15 hours to complete.
Working with Broncolor electronic flash, Dubler used two light bars vertically (Broncolor Lightbar 120s, 4 feet by 5 inches), one on either side of the dancer, about 10 feet away. Immediately behind the photographer, a huge eight-foot para umbrella with a diffuser provided fill light. For other shots, he positioned the Lightbars horizontally and moved them closer to the subject. For some shots, he added a focusing spot on a boom from above right.

As always, Dubler spent a long time in preproduction, planning and preparing this shoot, with a list of poses, costumes, and different sets and lighting variations. He asked the dancer to perform certain movements, such as a pirouette—a controlled spin ending on one leg on the tips of the toes. "A lot of the success of this project was dependent on Irina's ability to end her whirl on a precise spot marked on the studio floor. Flawlessly repeating this movement many times, she demonstrated her great ability, expertise and precision," Dubler asserts.

A spotlight was temporarily switched on prior to each shot to check focus, with the continuous background lights staying on throughout. Using an exposure varying from 1⁄15 to ¼ sec., Dubler anticipated the ballerina's movement and pulled the trigger on the camera's pistol grip, firing the flash units. Due to the extremely short duration of the flash, it freezes the dancer in a sharp image. But since the shutter remains open for the time exposure, a dark area with some motion blur surrounds her and separates the figure from the background. The result is a marvelous melding of the sharply delineated ballerina's still image enveloped in three-dimensional motion blur.

Today, Dubler is more subtle because he can exact a much finer amount of control to give a sense of the motion of ballet. For the ABT images, makeup was done by Bernadine Bibiano, hair by Kazunori Ueda. The stylist was Jersey, and the video was shot by Thomas Wirthensohn.
As well as changing the shutter speed, Dubler also varies whether the flash fires at the beginning, middle or the end of the exposure, a feature available with Broncolor. A technique Dubler has been refining since the late '90s, it's tremendously aided by the instant feedback of digital to check focus, motion blur, lighting and other variables.

Dubler sat behind a Mamiya RZ67 Pro IID fixed atop an Arca-Swiss ballhead on a Gitzo tripod, with an 80-megapixel 6x4.5 Leaf digital back connected to a Mac Pro with a solid-state hard drive from Other World Computing. Lenses from Mamiya included a 110mm, 140mm and 180mm. Two seconds after the strobes fire, the image appears on two large Eizo CG monitors, one for Dubler and the other for the digital tech. One benefit of such a high-resolution back is that Dubler plans to make digital prints 8 feet tall of the single images, with composites stretching to 5x18 feet.

"My concept with these dancers was not only to do the moving images, but to also combine them in some kind of a sequence via a composite, to take it to another level," says Dubler. "So during the shoot, I was both creating stand-alone shots, as well as images that would work well with one another. My inspiration for this was a still picture I did years ago of a ballerina who's moving in a line frontwards and backwards. With a long time exposure, the result was a series of repeated images of her connected by a sort of haze. It reminded me of a Greek temple frieze. My idea with the ABT shoot was to aesthetically interpret that."

Adds Dubler, "When I shoot, my vision and my pre-planning incorporate retouching that will be done in postproduction. For 20 years, I've relied on Willie at Cursor Ctrl. Even though he has been working in Australia for the last few years, we simply push around these big files via FTP over the Internet."

This is a totally self-assigned project. To fund such an involved venture with the required extremely high production values (there were about 12 people working on the set with an estimated $80,000 of lighting equipment alone), Dubler found sponsorship from Nik Software and Eizo Nanao Technologies. He plans to expand this project to include dance companies beyond the U.S. and perhaps do a large-format book. Like his subjects, Dubler is a guy in constant motion.

You can see more of Douglas Dubler's work at douglasdubler3.com.


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