The photographic series “Stardust” by French photographer Ludovic Florent has been widely publicized in recent months, with other photographers also using the technique to create dramatic, evocative shots of dancers and “dust”. When model Jenn B. found herself with a free day in Las Vegas, and contacted me to shoot, we had both seen the series liked it so well we wanted to do something like it.
There was, of course, the small problem of “how and where do we do that?” Neither of us had done anything like it before. It turns out that the basics are fairly simple: the “stardust” is nothing more exotic than general purpose baking flour, liberally applied to the various parts of the model, and thrown by her just prior to the shot.
But there is more to it, for both model and photographer. Jenn had studied classical dance, but almost 20 years earlier, so dance moves had to be composed from old muscle memory and her own creativity. Learning what kinds of motions worked, what didn’t – at least in our shooting conditions – took some time and trials.
The lighting used by Florent (and all the similar attempts I have seen) was deliberately dramatic, apparently a single, somewhat soft light source (in our case, a flash bounced into a four foot white umbrella) set about 135 degrees from the model and photographer. That gives something of a rim light, but reflections from the ground acted as a fill, so the rest of the body was visible, just much less prominent. We did try some shots with the light more directly on the model, but it seemed to us that Florent’s choice was a happy one.
There was one significant difference in what we did compared to Florent and the others I have seen. We lacked a large enclosed space to throw lots of flour around in, so we did the shoot at night, on the Nevada desert, when the temperature was in the 40s and winds averaging about 6 miles per hour. We quickly discovered that even a 6 mph wind causes flour thrown straight up to move nearly nine feet in a single second, so all of our shots had to take wind direction into account in how the dust was thrown. Some effects, like throwing flour by flipping the head and hair and creating deliberate shapes in the air, simply would not work even in those light wind conditions. The shapes became muddled by wind even in the fraction of a second while the shot was forming.
Shooting outdoors did, however, have the advantage that it allowed for a very wide area coverage, and inclusion of “context” like the moon in some of the shots. Between the cold, the wind and learning as we went, we used up 30 pounds of flour before having to call a halt to the experiment.