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Behind the Shot: “Ballet Dancer”
By Nicholas Samaras, January 28, 2013 @ 06:00 AM (EST)

By Nicholas Samaras

Back in November I was tasked with photographing a team of female water polo players for their annual calendar. 

Before the shoot, I had planned just to take the portraits with the muscular athletes dressed in their competition swimsuits and funny water polo hats. But when the day arrived, I met twelve beautiful girls full of joy and energy—more models than athletes in body shape, ready to transform into colourful mermaids.

The Idea

The concept became to frame the subjects – draped in florescent cloth dresses and light makeup to accentuate their femininity – against a stark black background—not your typical polo shot. The girls had chosen their favorite fabric color and were arguing and fighting about the month they wanted to represent.

While I was preparing the underwater studio, my assistant dressed the models with the long fabrics and educated the players on how to pose gracefully (not in polo form) underwater. 

Although the girls had basically grown up in a pool, they had some issues at the beginning. The polo style of constantly swinging about their arms and legs made their dresses tangle and the cloth background whirl about. But as the shooting progressed they managed to surpass all expectations, posing with extraordinary grace and confidence. 

The Shot

Of all twelve girls, it was polo player Anna who impressed me most with her serenity and smoothness in the water and her comfort to repeat over and over again. She had the longest breath holds, but at the same time the most calm and relaxed facial expression. 

When she finished posing, Anna confessed that she was once a ballet dancer, which greatly helped in forming a contoured shape and hand positions as only a dancer could.

Even though the shooting took place in an open pool during a sunny day, additional artificial lighting was necessary, especially because of the dark background. Initially I planned to use a multiple strobe setup with two Sea & Sea YS-250PROs and an off-camera strobe. I connected the off-camera strobe optically via triggerfish to minimize shadows on the girls’ faces in some shots and add a more dramatic tone to others by creating shadows. 

The final shot

In practice, that setup with the external strobe wasn’t efficient—and the strobes in the pool that where more than enough to the result I expected to see. My main goal was to light enough of the face to highlight the model’s emotion and facial expressions.

After six hours of shooting non-stop with an EF15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens on my Canon EOS 5D Mark II, I had created many non-traditional images for the water polo calendar. With the goal of selling the calendar to raise funds for participation in the national championships, the girls are off to a fast-swimming start.


Sergio A. Cesari
Feb 12, 2013 1:56 PM
Sergio A. Cesari wrote:
This look quite similar to a job I did long time ago...
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