Last session we were shooting Olga and Rodrigo, two long time practitioners of Iaido. Most of my research for this shot was fairly unsatisfactory at the beginning, and the same kind of cliché images would pop over and over again. The aha moment finally came when Olga explained that there’s as much art as there is discipline, and despite most people see the sword as a killing device -and it certainly is-, people tend to miss the beauty of the movements. We’re dealing with subjects whom have been devoting decades to this martial art, and the level of technical skill is pretty unbelievable.
So I decided that of course we would be getting strong poses with some dramatic lighting, but I was set to create an image which would capture the motion as well. After all, Katas are sequences of movements describing a defensive or offensive action, and not just a single moment frozen in time. I took inspiration from dance, deciding that it would be great to capture the arcs and shapes in motion that their bodies and swords describe before the pose.
Technically this shoot was going to be challenging to say the least. We made use of a combination of continuous lighting and long exposures to capture the movement. At the end of the exposure, a set of flash strobes would fire and freeze the subject in place. After explaining what would look best for the camera, Olga and Rodrigo quickly started practising their movements and the timing until we nailed it – and this definitely took longer for me than for them!.
Lighting the swords was also harder than I anticipated – being perfectly shiny objects, the specular highlights were very volatile and would come and go given the slightest twist. We ended up having to add a dedicated source of light just for the sword in some of the shots. Note however that a dark sword also turned to be an interesting graphic element in the composition.
All and all I am very happy with the results – I like to think we managed to shift a bit from the norm and produce unique images which capture important aspects of the art and skill that is Iaido.