From concept to print: Clive Booth's fiery ballet shoot with the Canon EOS R

Clive Booth photographs a dancer shrouded in orange and yellow silks.
Canon Ambassador Clive Booth created inferno-like portraits in-camera using the full-frame mirrorless Canon EOS R with the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM, the RF 24-105MM F/4L IS USM and the RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM lenses. © Fergus Kennedy

When the UK's Birmingham Royal Ballet wanted to publicise its new programme, Fire & Fury, it needed to sum up its production in one powerful, memorable image. "You have to hook the production around one picture, so it becomes synonymous with that production," explains Clive Booth, the Canon Ambassador chosen to realise the brief.

A commercial, fashion and portrait photographer and filmmaker with a proven track record of creating strong images for high-profile brands, Clive was keenly aware of the importance of creating the series. "The more powerful and beautiful it is," he says, "the more people will engage with it."

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Inspired by a Fire & Fury ballet's title, Ignite, visual representations of flame and burning were central to Clive's concept for the shoot. However, rather than put together a composite image in post-production including real flames, he captured the concept in-camera and created the illusion of fire with carefully chosen silk and chiffon fabrics.

On the day of the shoot, after weeks of research and preparation, Clive assembled his 25-person team at a studio in South London. The models were ballerinas from the Birmingham Royal Ballet itself. One by one, they stood on a plinth in the studio, covered in red or orange or blue silks, while assistants directed eight powerful fans to blow the material against and around their bodies, creating a maelstrom of colour and shape.

Creating beautiful bokeh

A ballet dancer completely shrouded in blue silks forms a sinuous S-shape like a living flame.
A dancer from the Birmingham Royal Ballet shrouded in silk becomes a living flame. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens at 1/400 sec, f/2.0 and ISO400. © Clive Booth
A ballet dancer shrouded in fluttering red silks, photographed from below.
Clive shot from a variety of angles, sometimes lying or kneeling on the floor, taking advantage of the vari-angle screen on the Canon EOS R. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 24-105MM F/4L IS USM lens at 1/200 sec, f/4.0 and ISO640. © Clive Booth

The resulting images were intended for a range of publicity uses, from the ballet company's social media pages and website to printed posters. With the deliverables in mind, Clive shot the campaign with the full-frame mirrorless Canon EOS R paired with the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM, the RF 24-105MM F/4L IS USM and the RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM lenses. The final images were then printed on the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-4000 large-format printer.

Clive's signature style is to use natural or continuous light and to shoot with lenses at a wide aperture for a narrow plane of focus. "I wanted to create really nice bokeh either side of the focal point," he says. "So I was working predominantly at around f/2.8 and ISO400.

The lenses are extraordinary… we'd have been very hard pushed to do this shoot on any other camera system.

"It was challenging because the silks were flying around in all directions – I was working with continuous light and I was looking for a very particular picture."

He shot each dancer from a range of different angles. Some shots were taken with Clive kneeling or lying on the floor and using the vari-angle screen on the back of the Canon EOS R. Then he would precisely move the focus point with his finger and tap the screen to fire the shutter. He had to work quickly because time was limited.

Clive Booth uses a Canon EOS R to photograph a dancer through billowing red fabric.
The RF lens mount features a short flange distance and large diameter mount, designed around the groundbreaking performance of the RF lenses. It's also compatible with EF and EF-S lenses by using one of three Canon EOS R adapters. © Fergus Kennedy

"We did all the setting up in the morning and I knew we only had four hours to nail the picture," Clive continues. "In a shoot like this, particularly an experimental one, you reach a point where everything starts to click, then after that it just rolls."

Portraits with the Canon EOS R

"I absolutely love the camera," Clive says of the Canon EOS R. "The ergonomics and the way it feels in my hand.

"The lenses are extraordinary. I knew the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens was going to be good, but when you start seeing the results, you think 'Wow!' The level of control you've got on the camera is outrageous – I can configure it any way I like. Also, although sometimes the light levels were very low, I could see everything clearly with the EVF.

A ballet dancer is just discernible within billowing orange and yellow silks.
Clive created the impression of dancing flames entirely in-camera, with no compositing or post-processing trickery involved. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens at 1/500 sec, f/2.0 and ISO400. © Clive Booth
A ballet dancer shrouded in billowing red silks with the appearance of dancing flames.
The RF lenses produce a beautiful bokeh. This combined with a narrow depth of field to create a shimmering flame-like effect. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens at 1/160 sec, f/4.5 and ISO400. © Clive Booth

"The thing I've loved most is that when you shoot a frame, you instantly see it through the viewfinder for a split second. It totally changes things because you're seeing the file without taking the camera from your eye. I knew I had nailed a particular shot without having to break the flow so I could work quicker.

"The camera did an amazing job and the autofocusing worked brilliantly. Given the challenges of what we were trying to do, we'd have been very hard pushed to do this shoot on any other camera system."

An image previewed on the touchscreen on the back of a Canon EOS R.
Being able to see his shots instantly through the electronic viewfinder or on the Canon EOS R's touchscreen gave Clive plenty of flexibility during the fast-paced shoot. © Fergus Kennedy

Although Clive has been using Canon kit for more than a decade, he says the launch of the EOS R is a very special one. "I've been involved with many Canon firsts, but this, I have to say, does feel different. It sounds a bit dramatic, but it's almost like a reinvention of the camera. A product like this reinvigorates you – it gets you excited about photography in a new way."

Making fine art prints

An advocate of committing images to paper, Clive culminated the shoot with large-format prints. The Fire & Fury images were processed as 16-bit TIFFs through Canon's Digital Photo Professional (DPP) software. With "minimal retouching", they were output as prints up to 112cm (44 inches) wide using the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-4000 printer.

"I've worked with imagePROGRAF printers for many years and they're robust and reliable," Clive continues. "You've always got the difference between reflected light and projected light, but what I get in the print is very close to what I see on screen.

A large-format print of a woman's face half-covered in blue fabric emerges from a Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-4000 printer.
For Clive Booth, the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-4000 printer "will give you the ultimate ink on paper." © Fergus Kennedy

"The cool thing is that once I've created a file, I can send that file to another imagePROGRAF printer, with the same calibration and settings, anywhere in the world, and know that their print will look the same as ones made in my office. The prints that the PRO-4000 produced from the Birmingham Royal Ballet shoot were just fantastic."

Clive firmly believes that a print is the best way for photographers to display their work. "It's still the only way to show somebody your version of a picture, because every monitor is different," he says.

"Print is also arguably still the best way to archive your work. I think there's a resurgence of interest in ink on paper, just like there is in music on vinyl. Increasingly, there's a perceived value in ink on paper, and the PRO-4000 will give you the ultimate ink on paper. For me, having my own colour-managed workflow and making my own prints is the most relaxing and rewarding thing that I do."

Since Clive worked with the EOS R on this shoot, firmware updates have added additional features that could benefit photographers capturing dancers in action. These include eye-detection AF that supports Servo AF, to help ensure that subjects’ eyes are clearly in focus even when they’re moving; the ability to use a small AF frame size that supports Servo AF; and the ability to use continuous shooting mode even when you've chosen to use a silent shutter.

Scris de David Clark

Clive Booth's kitbag

The key kit pros use to take their photographs

A Canon EOS R camera in the middle of a table, surrounded by two other cameras, various lenses and other equipment.




imagePROGRAF PRO-4000

Canon's imagePROGRAF PR0-4000 delivers stunning quality prints on media up to 44 inches. The LUCIA PRO 12-colour ink system and 1.28-inch print head ensure vivid colours, deep blacks, fast print speeds and superb quality.

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