A Battle with Feet

©2018 Madeleine Figueroa

A few weeks ago I was thinking what my next series photo should be. Being a dancer is difficult; not only do you have to have strength in your body, but you must have strength in your toes. A dancers’ feet are beautiful because of how much work they do. I came across an article by the Washington Post, that perfectly describes the strength and the tole that dancer’s put on their feet.

“While they may run, jump, squat, leap and pivot like any NBA star, dancers do it without shock absorption, arch support or any foot-comfort features whatsoever. Athletes get to wear shoes that are protective and kind to their feet. Dancers experience no such luxuries as they speed around the stage barefoot, or in heels, or in thin slippers with a flimsy leather sole — or, if they’re ballerinas, in those tight-fitting torture chambers known as pointe shoes.”

At my next shoot, I photographed a few dancer’s after their practice. They had a recital that weekend, and had been practicing everyday that week for 3+ hours. Many of the dancer’s had blisters and bunions. One dancer had been dancing on a fractured foot the whole week because she couldn’t afford to be out of the show. I used one strobe light up close, because I wanted harsh shadows and high contrast. After shooting and toning the photos, I could see them being used for an article with the Washington Post or  the New York Times.

©2018 Madeleine Figueroa


Series Style

MyMemory has an article, Portrait Tips from Celebrity Photographer Greg Gorman, that has become very helpful for my photo series. Gorman primarily takes photos of celebrities, however I’m not mimicking his photo style, but more of his process of retouching and toning. Gorman primarily uses black and white to tone his images. He crushes the highlights and brings down the shadows creating deep contrast. He provides a few helpful tips when working with subjects that have been provided bellow.



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  1. Use a single point of light. Many photographers believe you should have a multitude of light sources, but it’s not needed to photograph a beautiful portrait. Gorman’s note: “I often begin by turning them into and away from a single light source. I start with the light directly over the camera to determine which features I will play up in the highlights and which ones I will play down in the shadows. After determining what I feel will produce the optimum results, I will then place the light to the left or right of the camera to see if I prefer the subject turned into or away from the light.”
  2. Review your options. Gorman’s note: “To verify I am making the right decision, I will often take the time to shoot both sides of a person’s face turned into and away from the light. I will also analyze the light from both sides of the camera. I will then download the imagery onto my computer with a large display and review it before proceeding. The BIGGEST downside of shooting with 35mm DSLRs is the viewing size of the jpeg on the back of your camera. What often looks great there looks terrible once you see it enlarged.”
  3. 3. Start with a close-up.  Gorman’s note: “Starting in close and analysing your subject’s face offers you many positive things in terms of setting up what hopefully will become a successful shoot. It allows you to really see things up close and personal. It helps build a more intimate relationship between subject and photographer, and often helps set the tone for when you pull back with the camera in terms of direction, angles, posing, and general understanding of the person at hand. Once you pull back, that element of intimacy is gone and the distance can become more of an issue!”
  4. Build trust. It’s important to build trust with your subject, especially when trying to capture the who they truly are. Gorman’s note: “You must remember that most personalities are more comfortable playing a character other than themselves in front of your lens. When it comes time to strip them bare of all of this, they are often much more insecure than one would expect—realizing their personal flaws and shortcomings.”
  5. Create a signature with your images. Gorman’s note: “As an artist you must maintain and develop your own unique and discriminating style that represents you—not someone else! Your imagery should consequently reflect this in the look you have established.”
  6.  Build a great team. Gorman’s note: “Your signature look is dependent on a team—not just the photographer. For me, it is the consistency of working with the same make-up artists/hairdressers and stylists who understand the look and vision that goes into my work. My assistants, studio manager, retoucher, and even my chef all play equally important roles in completing the force behind my imagery. Without their superb assistance, I would fall short.”
  7. Understand body language.  Different poses can mean different things. Make sure that the pose the subject is doing is matching what you want to photograph to represent. Gorman’s note: “Leaning into a pose, for example, always presents a more positive and assertive look. When one’s head is in opposition to one’s body in many cases there is a certain tension that reads as uncertain or insecure. In posing, one must be totally conscious of the position of limbs, hands, and neck positions—all of these add up to elements that could distract and break the flow of a successful image.”
  8. Maintain control of your vision. In order to maintain your brand. The photographer should be heavily involved in the editing process. Gorman’s note: “Selecting the specific shots allows the artist to maintain control of his vision. I am very specific down to the final moment when the image is seen in its finality by others—whether it be in a magazine layout or on a billboard.”
  9. Master the art of retouching. Pay attention to fine detail, but don’t get carried away. Many retouchers tend to go overboard losing the detail of the subject in the process.  Gorman’s note: “On big shoots, my retoucher is often present to pick up on the energy and personality of the talent so it is maintained throughout the retouching process and not lost, as is so often the case today with over-retouching.”
  10. Foster relationships. Gorman’s note: “Finally, working with the talent to maintain the level of trust and confidence that one has established during the shoot is key and the best insurance policy to keep things on track for future possibilities.”




For my final photo project, I am creating a series of photos that capture the hard work of being a dancer. When we think of a dancer our minds jump to a beautiful and graceful woman on stage. When she jumps it sounds as though a feather hit the ground. We don’t think about the long hours of practice, bleeding feet, incomprehensible amount of strength, and dedication it takes to even be on that stage. I want to take my experiences from dance and express them through photos.

I love Greg Gorman’s style of photography. He takes black and white images and blows out the highlights and darkens the blacks creating high contrast. I plan to tone my photos in this way. It gives them an intense look while sculpting the body.

The photo above was taken in the SJMC studio. There were between 3 and 4 lights used. Two of the lights had barn doors on them, one light an octagon soft-box, and a hair light. I wanted the photo to have harsh lighting on the sides, but have soft lighting on the front of her body. The outcome is what’s pictured above along with 436 other photos!


Editorial Editing Techniques

I recently had a photography assignment due. I shot a group of women in business attire to represent the term Boss Babes which show women as being empowered in their work field. I wanted to have high contrast photos to give them an editorial feel. I stumbled upon this article called 10 Editing Techniques That Changed My Photography, written by Fstoppers.

It’s so important in the world of photography to know post processing, whether it’s subtle or extreme. This article was super helpful in explaining concepts I’ve heard about, but have never used. The author explained the steps he takes to turn a mundane photo into something eye catching.

1. Flattening out the Image in Raw

Flatten the image by bringing your highlights between -30 to -80 and your shadows between +30 to +80.

2. Using the Healing Brush

Use the healing brush to remove  pimples, inconsistencies on the skin, or any distractions on the background.

3. Using the Clone Stamp Set to Lighten or Darken

Use the clone stamp tool on areas that have little detail. It’s helpful to blend transitions in patterns or areas such as the sky. Change the opacity to 15%.

4. Learning How to Dodge and Burn

To be the least destructive, use one curve adjustment layer set to a brighter exposure and one set to a darker exposure. Then using the layer mask and brushes, dodge and burn.

5. Frequency Separation

This technique is used for smoothing out skin as well as clothes, skies, backdrops, or to even something out. There are many actions that you can download online.

6. Black and White Layer Changed to Soft Light

This gives the image a sharp editorial look. Open a B&W layer, and then change the blending mode to soft light. Change the opacity to around 20-60%.

7. Toning Using the Color Balance, Levels, and Hue/Sat Adjustment Layers

You can use the three adjustment layers to tone your images.  Open the Color Balance adjustment layer first. You can add some blues, cyans, or magentas to the shadows, reds, greens, or yellows to the midtones, and red or yellows to the highlights. This will usually keep colors more realistic. Add a Levels adjustment layer. You can add blues and greens on top of the shadows using the output sliders. Use the Hue/Sat to fine tune the colors. I will adjust the hue, saturation, and lightness of each color.

8. Crushing Highlights with Curves

This layer will add contrast and give your image a high key look. You can have a small S curve with several points. Bring the top point on the right side down a little bit, and then add a second point near it reducing the highlights’ tonal range.

9. Using Layer Masks

You can mask out where you want the effect to take place so that your effect does not change the whole image. Remember: white reveals, black conceals.

10. Using Different Blending Modes

You can open a blank layer, set the blending mode to color, use a brush at a very low opacity (5-15%) and even out colors of skin or clothes by sampling a color you like and painting over a color you don’t like. There are 26 different blending modes you can choose from.


I gave a very short summary of the 10 techniques given by Fstoppers. For further detail on the techniques (I highly encourage it) click on the link above. Here is a sample of my before and after post processing. I used a few techniques mentioned above.



Know Your Modifiers

blog pic

Note: Not all modifiers are featured above.

Fstoppers wrote an article, Getting The Most Out Of Your Modifiers, that I found  super helpful. As a photographer enthusiast, I can see a photo and fall in love with the look and feel of the photo. Lighting has a lot to do with this. It makes me wonder how did they create that photo? There are so many ways to light a photo, and even more ways to modify a single light source. This article discusses a few modifiers, specifically with an octabox and a beauty dish, that photographers use to give their photo that certain feel.

Octabox Bare: Light is controlled, but hard.

Octabox With Inner Baffle Only: Lighting is still diffused, but not as soft as the an Octabox with both baffles. Lighting is a stronger directional light.

Octabox with both Baffles: Lighting is soft and filling.

Octabox with both Baffles and Grid: The light is soft and the grids provide a directional lighting.

Beauty Dish Bare – Soft: When dish is placed overhead of subject, it provides a nice soft light that wraps around the face. The dish can cause a spill when bare producing a gradient background.

Beauty Dish With Grid: A Beauty Dish with a 25° Grid is one of the most dramatic forms of modification available. There is no spill and the light is controlled.

Beauty Dish With Diffusion Sock: Results are similar to a softbox but the light is more controlled and wraps the face well. Placing the dish overhead creates a nice butterfly effect which we talked about in class!

Beauty Dish Bare – Hard: Placing the light towards the left provides a spill of light from the outer rim of the dish. It gives the photo harsher lighting.

Beauty Dish With Grid  – Side: Placing the dish on the side gives the image a more dramatic look.

I found this article super helpful not only distinguishing different modifiers, but how to set them up to give my photo a certain effect. I plan to go to the studio soon to try these modifiers out. Hope you enjoy this article just as much as I did!