Moving Images; The Photography Of Lois Greenfield

Just when I thought I'd seen her at her best, Lois Greenfield steps it up a notch and amazes me once again with her sharp eye for the body in motion. "Sharp" is the operative word here. Many photographers, myself among them, may accept a little blur in a fast-moving subject. Not Greenfield. She learned long ago that if sharpness and crisp detail are important to the client, they're important to her.

This portrait of Parayoga master teacher Yogarupa Rod Stryker represents a stark departure from the norm for Lois Greenfield. Here she used a beauty dish from overhead to create a pool of light and a complementary shadow below. A Plexiglas floor helps to add a spiritual element embodied in a reflection that extends beyond the edge of the frame.
All Photos © 2007, Lois Greenfield, All Rights Reserved

Greenfield is one photographer we can all learn from. Her uncomplicated lighting is precisely the reason she is able to capture such startling images. As in any successful studio, the photographer does not work alone, and that is true of Greenfield. Her creative partner, Jack Deaso, originally her first assistant, handles the lighting, freeing Greenfield to focus on her moving images. Greenfield has developed a style all her own and Deaso knows how to set up the lights to fit that style.

Defining herself as both fine art and commercial photographer, Greenfield's style of photography, technique, and tools have evolved over the years. Originally film-based, she now shoots digital with a Hasselblad and Leaf digital back, capturing dancers, acrobats, and gymnasts in fluidly rhythmic moments. She lets her subjects improvise within the framework of her direction. Experience has taught her when to direct and when to let go. Her direction is aimed not only at capturing what she sees as a peak moment in her subject's movements but equally at a defining moment involving how the lighting embraces her subject. "I feed off their improvisation and then direct the performers so we get something that is magical or mysterious and evocative."

Here Lois Greenfield has created a playful interaction of light and shadow as she captures these graceful dancers, Joseph Gallerizo and Vannessa Lynn Campos (Dodge Dance Company). She used a Broncolor Satellite Soft as her key light with the dancers almost up against the backdrop. Two low lights on opposite sides created the additional shadow dancers.

Sculpting With Light
Greenfield is focused on lighting for form and three-dimensionality, using what she calls "sculptural" lighting. "I want the sensation that there is a single light source, similar to the effect we see in classical paintings, with shadows and a little bit of falloff, as opposed to lighting the set evenly. I want the lighting to imbue the shot with drama." She adds: "We like to keep a fair amount of distance between the subject and the background. Personally, I don't like the edges (on the subject) burned out. I like some delineation of the body's form against the backdrop, which becomes part of the sculptural quality."

With dancers, she achieves this effect simply by the judicious position of her key (main) light and timing the shot so it revolves around the dancer's movements relative to the light and the sculptural lighting quality she's after. As they move around on a stage, the lighting seems to morph as it strikes the performers. "If the dancers are just a few feet away from the light it makes an enormous difference in the overall lighting and mood."

In Greenfield's studio, the key light is placed at a 3/4 angle relative to the subject from the front, routinely to the left of camera. It's also important for the light to gain some distance from the subject, being positioned about 10 ft away or more. That gives a dancer room to move. And while the lighting scheme may appear formulaic, it is more than that. The dancer may be facing the light, or just as often facing away from it. We may actually find Greenfield using light so that it primarily rim lights the dancer, even when that performer is seemingly suspended several feet above ground.

Sometimes you say more with less light, as in this portrait of dancer Katie Swords (Notoriety). Lois Greenfield didn't feel it necessary to blast her subject with light. Instead she aimed for subtlety, letting rim lighting highlight the arms and hands, key elements in this shot.