Creating the Photograph: Thomas David’s “Dust and Fight”


Editor’s Note: Creating the Photograph is an original series where we interview photographers all about a photo that they shot how it was achieved. The results are some knowledge passed onto you. Want to be featured? Email chrisgampat[at]thephoblographer[dot]com

Thomas David is the type of hobbyist that I’d surely call a prothusiast. His work bears all the markings of a true creative that could surely market themselves as a professional, but he pursues photography as his passion. Since picking up a camera in his young days, he has grown and evolved. When he switched from film to digital, he equipped himself with new techniques and worked on improving his work and finding ways to creatively express himself even better. Then he did a 365 project and created an even better body of work–much of it involving strobist type of setups.

Now a member of the Strobi Team in France, he almost is never seen without his camera. Thomas reached out to us about his image, “Dust and Fight.”

Here’s his story. And if you’re interested check out more in our Creating the Photograph series.

The Concept


A few month back, I did a ‘dust and dance‘ series using flour indoors. It was great but it made me want to take the concept outside and use it ‘in real life’.

And since I wanted to change a little and not just take some other shots of a dancer/gymnast like last time, I was looking for something else involving motion (so the flour would be interesting).

That’s how the idea of some kind of ‘kung fu’ shooting came.

Gear Used

Canon EOS 5D MK II

Canon EF 135mm f/2L

– 3 Lumopro LP160 Flashs

– 4 Cactus V5 radio transceivers

– 3 light stands

– 1 50′ Apollo JS softbox

– 1 Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod with 486RC2 head

– 1 Canon EOS 7D with Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II for the video

– Lots of flour

The Shoot

The idea was then to have a ‘fight’ between two people and to use the flour to highlight the movements.

That means I needed a dark background to light the flour from the back and make it visible. I wanted something natural and not an urban background, so we decided to do this in a forest.

The clothes and accessories had to give an ‘oriental feeling’. We tried to use swords (visible at the beginning of the video) but the Chinese fans were a lot better to hold flour so we went for that.

Light Setup

The ambient lighting is underexposed by approximately two stops so the background is quite dark and the attention is focused on the subjects.

In order to highlight the silhouettes and the flour, I placed two bare flashes at the back, left and right.

And to keep details on the subjects and especially their faces, I have on flash in front, on the right, in a big softbox.

Speedlights are perfect for this kind of shoot since the duration of the flash is very short and they thus are able to freeze the flour. To minimize the duration of the flash, they must be used at the lowest possible power.

Camera Setup

To underexpose the ambient light and still be able to light my subjects with speedlights, I choose ISO 50 (lowest possible) and a shutter speed of 1/200th of a sec. (max sync speed to use with the flashes). To underexpose the ambient (cloudy day) by approximately two stops. That gives me f/5.6, which is almost perfect since I will have a decent sharpness over my subjects but the background and parts of the flour clouds will be slightly out of focus, giving a little more depth to the shot.

With these settings, and to get enough light, both of the back lights are at 1/4th power, which is very good, but the front light has to be at full power. That means the recycle time is going to be quite long and it might introduce a bit of blur on the flour because the flash duration will be longer than at 1/4th power. But anyway, we also will have a bit of blur from ambient, even underexposed by 2 stops.



We did a few tests shown in the video with little flour, and slowly added more (so the models were not scared right away). But mainly, the more flour the better.

We had to put flour in their hair, and on their arms and shoulders, and on their fans before the shot. Then I counted to 3 and they made the move we rehearsed. I had to trigger the shutter at the exact right time because only the first picture had the light from the flash in the softbox. At full power, the recycle time is long so it wouldn’t fire for the other shots of a given move. So if I missed, we had to do it all over again.


For the shot here, it was very difficult to synchronize the moves of the two models. One had to flip her hair back and ‘protect’ herself with both hands, while the other had to throw her hair forward and throw some flour with her hands like some sort of ‘magical attack’. The solution was to decompose the shot and we did shoot each subject separately.

Post Production


The main work was to combine both shots. But this was actually quite easy because I used a tripod and the flour clouds are very easy to merge.

The rest is work on the contrast, luminosity, area by area. The difficult part of this was to work on the background and the flour clouds separately, because these are partly transparent.

And of course, there’s the change of color of the clothes. The two models were originally both wearing red and I wanted to change that at least on one shot of the session. It’s done by selecting the exact area of the cloth and changing the color just there.

Before and After





You can check out more of Tom’s work at his website, Twitter, Flickr, 500px or visit him at his Facebook page.

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.