Before we dive into the written BTS-article, I would like you to have a quick look at the BTS-video that I compiled from this shoot. In the video you’ll see our “studio”, my lighting set-up and even an overview of my post-processing. So with that said, check it out:

Okay! Now, I’m going to go through the shoot step-by-step. We arrived at the Opera-house, which is located in downtown Helsinki, in the morning and began the preparations for the shoot. While our dancers were getting their hair and make-up done, I was taken to a large practice-hall that would act as our studio on that day.

The space was very large, and I had full control over the amount of ambient light as the window-shades were electronically controllable. I started out by setting up the black backdrop on the wall. Once that was done, it was time to set-up our lighting. For this shoot I decided to use a three light setup that was comprised of two soft-boxes and one umbrella. In order to create some drama in the photos, I placed the two soft-boxes on both sides of our “stage”. But these two lights alone would not be enough, as our dancers faces would still be very dark, so I placed my third light, with the umbrella modifier, about 45° to the side to fill in those shadows. So, the lighting setup looked something like this:

In addition to lighting equipment, I also brought my smoke-machine with me in order to create an atmospheric background for the photos. As you can see in the video, the smoke-machine was placed in the back-right corner of our “stage”.

Once the lights and smoke-machine was setup and our dancers were ready, we began shooting some photos! I was shooting tethered to a computer, as we wanted the dancers to quickly see how their poses looked as we could adjust throughout the shoot when necessary. There were many photographs that I thought looked amazing, but the dancers pointed out many small details that would go unnoticed to an untrained eye. For example, the position of the fingers, or the way the hips were twisted. These were things that were impossible for me to pick up on as I myself am not a professional dancer. So shooting tethered and having the dancers immediately review their photos was quite helpful. It also allowed us to make sure that the images were sharp, which sometimes can be hard to determine when looking at the photos in camera.

I used these camera-settings for most of the photographs:

Camera: Canon 5D Mark II
Lens: Canon 85mm f/1.8
ISO: 100
Aperture: f/5.0
Shutter: 1/160


In the end of the BTS-video you saw me going through the Photoshop file for this particular image:

Next, I’ll do a quick written overview about the post-processing of this image. Here is the image straight out of the camera:

As you see, the smoke doesn’t really cover all of the background, so the first thing that I had to do, was to clean up the background and add some smoke with the cloning-tool and the healing-brush:

Once the base-image looked ok, I did some minor dodging and burning, which helped in bringing out some of the very dark detail in our female-dancers dress and crown:

After that I worked on the colors of the image. I wanted to have a nice gray-blue-greenish tone to this image and have the yellow color act as an accent color. This was achieved with two separate curves-adjustment layers and one hue/saturation-adjustment layer that I used in order to bring up the saturation of the yellow decorations in our dancers costumes:

The photo was close to being done after this stage. I closed the computer and came back to “judge” the photo the next day. I saw some minor flaws that I had overlooked the day before and fixed those, before deciding that the image was ready to be published:


As you saw in the video, I have several other photographs from this shoot as well, so I thought I’d feature those here at the end of this article. If you have any further questions about the lighting, shooting or post-processing of these photographs, just leave a comment below, or shoot me an email at

Photos, editing and bts-video: Lauri Laukkanen 
Hair & makeup: Elina Nikitin
Costumes: Kansallisooppera (Finnish National Opera)
Dancers: Michal Krcmár & Petia Ilieva (dancers in the black costumes), Salla Eerola & Jani Talo (dancers in the white costumes)