One Light Tango

I’m back from Africa (a marathon 50 hour door-to-door return trip with delays, rerouting, and all the things that make travel a joy these days). More on that later.

Photo © Bob Krist

In the meantime, I got the word that my Buenos Aires piece is laid out and published in National Geographic Traveler, and I’m allowed to share some outtakes with you.

One of my favorite shots that didn’t make the cut is this one of tango dancers in the San Telmo neighborhood.

It’s one light, an SB 800 or 900 (I forget which one) on a long boom pole, held above the dancers by my friend, Bernardo Galmarini, the best travel photographer in Buenos Aires, who helped me on the assignment.

We used a Rode boom pole, less convenient than everybody’s favorite paint pole, but it collapses down to under three feet, as opposed to just over four feet, which makes it infinitely easier to fit into standard sized luggage. Bernardo is up on the staircase on the left (you can just see it in the corner of the picture).

We zoomed the flash out to its longest setting, gelled it double orange, used Tungsten WB, snooted it (alas, I forgot my Honl snoots, so we created the snoot with newspaper and gaffers tape). Bernardo kept re-aiming the light until we got the shadows more or less where we wanted them. I had minus two on the camera, and plus one on the strobe. ISO 800, 16-85mm.

That’s the tech part, and it’s fairly straightforward. For the the real-world part that makes the strobist degree of difficulty pale in comparison, hit the jump.

We found the dancers in a nearby square…they are a super couple and we negotiated a rate to hire them for an hour of modeling between 6-7pm. It was key to do this shot during twilight, because any earlier, or later, and it wouldn’t work (at least not with one light) because we had to underexpose the ambient by about two stops, but needed some ambient to fill the surroundings. And I emphasized the need for punctuality about 15 times during our conversation (hey, I realized I was in the languid south, and knew what I was up against, punctuality-wise).

Then we found this nice courtyard, but the shopkeepers wanted a “location fee” and would only keep the courtyard open till 7pm. After a long, long negotiation, Bernardo was able to convince them that I wasn’t Cecille B DeMille and we had a limited budget, so we go the location for a semi-reasonable fee.

So we set up and did some test shots with Bernardo’s girlfriend and waited for the models to show up.

And waited, and waited, and it was 6:30pm and the light was perfect, and my time on location was already half over.

At 6:35pm, desperate, I went out into the streets of San Telmo to look for my models…I found them, casually sauntering down the street (what can you say, dancers don’t appreciate the need for punctuality in photography–even after being reminded 15 times– and photographers don’t really understand the need to stretch our hamstrings—even though my chiropractor tells me weekly how important it is!).

I hustled them into the courtyard, and got them into position at about 6: 45pm.

And what should have been the calm hour-long master session in the manner of McNally or Hobby, became the typical Krist Keystone Kops 15 minute race against the clock. The light pole sections started slipping, the dancers were getting bored with the same pose, I was dripping sweat all over my D90’s LCD, the shopkeepers were tapping their feet with keys jingling in hand to lock up the courtyard.

I got a series of them at ground level and then went above and did some overhead views from the second story balcony. At 7pm it was over, the dancers were gone and we were out on the street. But we managed to get a couple of good ones along the way, thanks to two great tango dancers, and two tap dancing photographers!

This Post Has 18 Comments

  1. It’s a beautiful photo. One of the advantages of the digital gizmos is definitely the high ISO performance. Can you imagine how this photo would have looked on the Hi Speed Ektachrome of years past?

    Where was the ambient light coming from?

    50 hours door to door to Africa? Wowzer. Even if flights are on time that’s like a max of 30 hours on the ground. Hardly enough time to get a Tusker in Jomo Kenyatta Airport. jack

    1. Jack: Snow in Amsterdam set the whole schedule in a tumble….I came home via Detroit! The good news is we had plenty of time to drink Safaris while sprawled on the 6 hour line for the delayed flight in Arusha…remind me again why we travel??? Hope you’re well. Bob

      1. Why we travel: Drinking Safaris for six hours in Arusha. Almost as much fun as six hours of Mojitos in La Florida.

        1. Jack: It’s as good a reason as any! Bob

  2. Bob: Time tested, as used on my wife. Be ready to go at 3 pm when we really need to leave by 3:30. Almost never fails. Great shadows.

    1. Hi Mike: They got off from their gig at 5:30 (3 blocks away) and we told them 5:45….still not enough! Missed you in Tanzania! Bob

  3. …and that photograph didn’t make the cut? Can’t wait to see the rest of them.

  4. I know some dancers here in the relatively (O.K., extremely) Far North. Needless to say, I feel your pain.

  5. Happy to finally read about your Buenos Aires gig. Very nice picture! I laughed by reading “..dancers don’t appreciate the need for punctuality in photography..”. This is not about them but about every porteños [inhabitants of Buenos Aires] in general. They tend to show up late everywhere. Punctuality is not one of their best asset. Can’t wait to see the NGT magazine hit the store here in Buenos Aires.

    All the best Bob!

  6. Hi Bob,
    At least your flights were delayed. My ship had a touch of bad luck in the Ice Fields and put it out of commission. Antarctic trip cancelled till November, so here comes the idiotic question of the year. Knowing you and Joe are Nikon Guys would there be a duo such as yours that can explain the Cannon Speedlights like you guys did for Cannon?

    1. Tim: Explain the workings of Canon speedlights? Oh, yes, right after they perfect cold fusion, somebody might be able to turn enough brainpower around to explain the workings of Canon speedlights:-).

      Until then, you’re on your own! Bummer about Antarctica…were you already down there when they cancelled? Bob

  7. Hi Bob, love your photo of the Tango dancers and the back story, I can’t get the vision of you lap dancing out of my head. Will, look forward to seeing the rest of the story, Paddy.

    1. Paddy: Great to hear from you! Hope Kate and the girls are well. Look forward to seeing you guys soon. cheers, Paddy II

  8. Hi Bob! I can’t wait to take a look at your Buenos Aires photos in NG Traveler. A 50 hour Africa trip sounds like a real grinder for Africa..considering almost a 20 hour flight each way! Incidentally, I just attended the Nikon School in Orlando and was fortunate to win a copy of the Creative Lighting DVD that you did with Joe McNally. I already have a copy, but winning it was a signal to sit down and watch it again. Best wishes!

  9. I am sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for the NG article to come out! I have a shot of this same courtyard and loved all the great angles to shoot it from. I love the lighting you created. I sure can sympathize with you on the lateness factor – since moving here from New York City I have had to get used to this cultural aspect quite a bit!

    1. Hi Erin: I envy you living in BsAs. It’s a fantastic city, and the Portenos are wonderful people. Bob

  10. It’s a beautifully lit shot, love the simplicity of it. Those shadows make it!

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