Floating, Zombie Ballerinas..I Mean, Of Course…. « Joe McNally Photography


A number of folks chiming in our our recent Instagram post have asked about a “how to” sort of explanation of the lighting and staging of the banner photo up top. Others have asked, simply, what’s going on? Still others might be thinking of asking precisely what type of pharmaceutical regimen I’m engaged with.

I’ve photographed dance my whole career, and it is certainly a beautiful thing to watch and make pictures of. Nowadays, ballerinas are everywhere–subways, landscape settings, on the counter at luncheonettes (guilty!) and a whole range of places where it would seem unlikely to fling oneself into an arabesque.

What to do that might be different? Unique? Silly? Twisted? Enter the Pointe Shoe Mysteries, a noir-ish series of photos imagining a prima ballerina, to secure a level of certitude of being selected for prime roles, is offing her competition. Detective Nik Night is assigned to investigate these grisly, gruesome glissades from the dark side of dance.

One dancer was found in a dryer in a laundromat in Brooklyn.

Another went pointe shoes up in a garbage can outside on Sixth Avenue in The Diner episode.

The intrepid gumshoe, Nik Night, played by dear friend and wonderful actor Nik Pjeternikaj, hears of rumored music and floating dancers in a graveyard where these recently departed divas of dance have been interred. Is it spooky magic? A cry from beyond? Music to lament the far too early passing of these talented dancers as they have gone from first position to last?

Nik investigates only to confront leaping, frightful zombies into tattered tutus.

Ok…this involved gels, smoke, lighting the trees, and floating our terrific actresses, Marisa Roper and Natasha King over the gravestones. Which was accomplished by shooting plates where the set is naked, and then positioning small trampolines for them to get some air time. The smoke was indiscriminate, as smoke tends to be in shifting breezes. Hence the lights are somewhat in and out, in and out. Brighter, smoker, then dimmer and harder. Just the way it goes.

BTS stills here courtesy of Seth Miranda, the SFX master himself. Zombie treatments by Catrina Grieco, who is amazing at these kinds of transformations. Production, per usual, by Lynn DelMastro, flawless as always. Lighting was all Profoto – big and small units. Gitzo Systematic for the camera set up in every episode, which you’ll see in the BTS videos. As nighttime encroached, shutter speeds lengthened. It’s also super important to be absolutely stable when you are shooting plates as everything needs to stay in register. The Systematic is a formidable platform.

Oddly, it wasn’t a difficult picture to craft, despite the wavering smoke, and the on and off intensity of how the gel colors spread. It’s all in your head, so you really can’t “make a mistake.” Cause there’s no “right way” to shoot floating zombie ballerinas. Wing it! Put up some lights, stage the action, and go for it.

To all, have a wonderful and safe Halloween!

More tk…

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