Belly dancer portraits at “Shimmy for Critters 2014”

Nancy, Brenda and Mary pose with "Burrito" during the Shimmy for Critters fundraiser at the Riverside Animal Shelter.
Nancy, Brenda and Mary pose with “Burrito” during the Shimmy for Critters fundraiser at the Riverside Animal Shelter.

A common mistake when selecting a photoshoot location is not accounting for 3 dimensions around your subjects.

If all you are photographing is one person for a headshot and not their full body, then you won’t need a lot of room.

But when you take on  3 or more people in a photo, then you will encounter all kinds of headaches.

Space Behind

Having your subject with their back literally against the background is seldom a good choice.

For one thing, your subject will cast a shadow against the background.

If you want to separate them from the background, you can’t put any lights between your subject and the background.

Also, no matter what aperture you use, the background will be nice and sharp.

When you don’t have sufficient space behind your subject, your main (key light) or fill will  spill onto the background unless you use a gobo (go between object) to shield the spill from the backdrop.

Furthermore if you light the backdrop  with a gel for effect, then the light spill will cause a loss of color saturation.

Space in front

Na’ilah arches her back as she whips her beautiful long hair. We rehearsed this a few times before I got the timing right.

If you, the photographer, are backed up against the wall, it means you can’t shoot with any lens other than a wide angle.

Wide angle lenses aren’t necessarily evil but they sure can make your subjects appear so.

Wide angles lenses will show more of the background including all the behind-the-scenes clutter.

If you don’t have a backdrop that’s wide enough, that means you will have to do some post production in Photoshop.

Space on the sides

A fisheye lens shows the space I had to work with.
A fisheye lens shows the space I had to work with.

The lack of space on the sides physically restricts the kinds of light modifiers you can use.

Since large light sources are what we photographers need, not having the room to put a softbox or umbrella limits our options for soft lighting.

The bigger the light source, the softer the light.

Space above

Feyrouz Nikkal
Feyrouz Nikkal from  Dancing Belly

A low ceiling means all subjects have to be under a certain height or else they have to be seated.

So when choosing a space for a photoshoot, the bigger the space the better.

By the time you set up a backdrop, bring in the lights, that often cuts into the useful space.

Ideally walls should be a neutral color or else they need to be far away from the shooting spot so that spill from light doesn’t reflect back and cause color shifts.

Did I leave out anything else? If I did, feel free to comment.

Probably often overlooked is comfort.

Air conditioning is your friend.

Sweat causes makeup to smear et cetera.

I was indoors the entire time.

Outside, the mercury climbed above  100℉ but I was told it was a dry heat. 😉


  • Canon 5DMark 2
  • 100mm f2.8
  • 50mm f1.4
  • 17-35 f2.8
  • 3 2 White Lightning XL800s
  • Softlighter (light modifier)
  • Photoflex 72″ reflector as a gobo or flag


Chocolate pudding wrestlers
Chocolate pudding wrestlers


“Shimmy for Critters” Portraits of Bellydancers 2014 from Peter Phun on Vimeo.

Peter Phun Photography

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