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Sarah Silver: Putting Motion In Motion

Sarah Silver’s annual collaboration with the Stephen Petronio Company is taking a fresh new turn as the photographer incorporates motion capture in the project


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But we hadn't had the chance to incorporate video with Stephen until this year. We do these really elaborate shoots. Over the years, we've done shoots with water, smoke, light trails and, most recently, paint. The end results are used for the promotion of the dance company.

DPP: Some of the shoots you've done in the past with freezing a moment and showing movement couldn't have been done with continuous light.

Silver: Right. Like the water shoot we did was based on stroboscopic lighting. Sometimes I used mixed lighting, getting some of the exposure from hot lights. It starts with a concept, then we figure out what we need to do to execute the photo.

DPP: What was your equipment setup to capture the stills?

Silver: It's been the Hasselblad and strobes up until this year. That's where the Hasselblad can really shine when you want to sync a strobe with a high shutter speed. I'm in love with the H4. The look of my work has always been extreme tack-sharp images and stop-motion. But this year we wanted to do video, and we didn't have time to switch back and forth between lighting setups. Because of the ISO 800 we had to use for the video and not wanting to change setups, I used the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. I wanted a quick change between stills and video. That's the key element in doing both. You don't have time to relight so do it right once. The Canon at ISO 800 gives a beautiful image; there's noise, but not the kind of noise that's going to kill a picture. For the stills, I shot at 1/320th of a second at ƒ/4.5. We did the stills in the morning and the video in the afternoon. All the gold paint was for video only. The stills incorporated gold, but not the big orgy of it. The video was done second because, once we did it with all the paint, the set was trashed.


Silver switched from her beloved Hasselblad H4D system to the Canon EOS 5D Mark III for the first time on this project, her eleventh shoot with the company, to move quickly between stills and video. High ISO with a minimal noise floor gave her the ability to use the same lighting setups for both stills and motion.
DPP: What was the setup for the video?

Silver: Three cameras for one take for the video. Once we started with the paint, there was no going back for a retake. We used daylight-balanced Kino Flos for general illumination and the Broncolor Para 88 FB Reflector with the Broncolor DW400 HMI head inside it for a harder light source to add a final snap and sense of direction to the overall lighting aesthetic. I wanted to use a parabolic light source, which is snappy and beautiful at the same time, and I need something that's multiuse since I shoot a lot of hair, beauty and fashion with strobes. Everybody wants the same look for the video and stills.

For the dance video, we positioned the Para 88 14 feet off the ground facing down to give the killer jaw line I'm obsessed with. But I was lighting for the gold more than anything. Our lighting had to be reflective in all the right places. For the video, especially with dance, I wanted to see the bigger picture so I directed it with my DP Dustin Wadsworth and two camera operators shooting the video.

DPP: What are you looking for when shooting the stills and the video?

Silver: When you're shooting stills of dancers, you're picking a specific moment of body movement. You have a beginning, a middle and an end. Like a jump—you start on the floor, fly through the air, then you end up back on the floor again. You make the choice where the moment is. Dance photography is its own genre for a reason. In baseball, the pitcher releases the ball, the batter makes his swing, and the photographer chooses the moment. It's the same thing in dance photography; it's a very specific skill set. We hone in on the decisive moment. For video, it's more like a theater production. We're not making a documentary. We wanted to express the movements, but not necessarily in real time, and show them without being too "dancy." The video isn't linear. We shot it in real time with three cameras and then moved the clips around in post. There's definitely a crescendo to the gold paint in the video. We want to show the essence of movement, this orgasmic gold experience, without it being labeled "a modern dance film."

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