During the last week of November, I had the great honor of photographer the En Pointe School of Dance/Praise in Motion dance company’s presentation of “The Gift”. I have been taking photographs of this wonderfully talented group of dancers since 2012 when I first asked if they would mind if I crashed their tech and dress rehearsals to take photographs. Kathy and Rhonda were both very gracious and with their permission I am allowed back stage and given the run of the theater during these times. All of the edited photographs are then given to them to use how they wish. It is a very beneficial arrangement as I am allowed to do what I love and this wonderful organization is given material to use for their promotions and other events.
Of course, now that I have been shooting photographs as a hobby for almost 20 years, I have a fairly large library of images I have shot over the years and while doing a catalog cleanup I came across this image taken in 2003.
This was taken while I was in the audience with my first Digital SLR that was brand new (A Canon 10D for those interested). This was a 6 megapixel camera (smaller than most phones now days) that was a whopping $2,000 new. Since I could not afford any lenses at that time, I was using my lenses from my old film camera and these were both Sigma lenses.
It is amazing to me that this photo is a clear as it is and that the emotion is still there. Of course, dance photography didn’t really get into my soul at that point. It was just something else to do as I was learning my new camera.
Fast forward to 2012 and now I am getting more interested in photographing dance. Much of this was due to starting to follow an immensely talented photographer Richard Calmes (http://www.richardcalmes.com) and then being able to see him work behind the scenes with dancers in down town Atlanta and then again in his studio at Gwinnett Ballet). This showed me the beauty, agility and strength that these dancers have that proved to me that they were not just artists but athletes as well. This is when I approached a friend who worked backstage with Praise in Motion and asked if it would be possible for me to shoot the upcoming Christmas performance that they had coming in a couple of weeks. He gave me the contact information to the two wonderful ladies that run the company and they both agreed to allow me to do this. Below are two images I captured from this event.
This was my first real foray into this genre of image making. I learned a lot and found that it is much harder than it looks. This began a period of intense learning on my part. How do I improve these images? What did I do wrong? Is this an equipment limitation or a personal limitation? This is also the time I found Scott Nilsson (https://www.facebook.com/ScottNilssonPhotographer) who was shooting the same event and starting to see how it was that he saw the dance. Scott has a huge advantage as he and his wife are both dancers and this allows him the opportunity to know what is coming next based upon how the dancer is preparing.
So at this point, there is a lot of looking at the photos of folks that do this professionally. Richard and Scott both were huge inspirations to me and I started to look at websites for dance to see how the photos were captured.
So this learning led to the 2013 spring presentation by the group and THOUGHT I had it all figured out. Wow, did this performance show that I had a lot to learn .
While I am happy with these images, there were so many more that had motion blur, camera shake, poor composition. I took nearly 3,000 photos over those two days and wound up with fewer than 200 that were worth looking at. So, back to learning cycle. What did I do wrong? Is it equipment or me? Maybe dance photography is not for me! So, Instead of just looking at the photographers I admired, I started to read on ballet and watch YouTube videos of performances. Start to learn the various dance moves and what they are called (and I still don’t understand all of it). And on and on and on. Leading to the 2013 performance of “The Gift”.
Ok, so NOW I am starting to get somewhere. I am able to almost predict when move is going to occur. My camera settings are starting to solidify and the dances no longer feel self conscious that I am sticking a camera in their face. I am starting to get the KEY moments of the dances. I still took over 3,000 photos but I have a solid 10% of the images that are solid (not really a bad ratio). Most of the images that are rejected are because my timing was just off or that the ISO I had to shoot at introduced way too much noise into the image. Some images are removed because they are not flattering to the dancer or because I had a brief technical error (if you want that story, you have to take me to dinner). So, back to the questions, What did I do wrong? Is it equipment or me? Is there something I can do different? Why did I want to take photographs of dance again? Well, back to the learning!
Now we come to the Spring performance of 2014. This is always a fun dance to shoot because there is always a new act that is introduced and this year it was an adaptation of Snow White. Wonderful costumes and color and I am really excited to see this. The girls are excited, the choreographers are excited and there is a lot of energy in the theater.
This dance proves to me that the photos should be more than just the dance. You also need to capture the personality of the dancers. These girls do this for the love of it and it shows. I also learned that you have to be ready to GRAB an image that you see starting to come together. You cannot take a break and your eyes always have to be aware. The tunnel shot above of the girls on point happened for a brief second and there is really no clue it is coming. I saw it as it happened and went click. This dance also showed that it seems that I grab one or two “IT” images in each of these sessions. Images that just say it all. For me the first and last image in this sequence were those images. I am starting to get better with my captures and I am starting to get better with my post processing. I still have a ways to go to get “THE” images I am looking for. How do I time them? How do I prepare when I am not a dancer? are they other things that I can learn through books and videos? Or is it going to be one of continuing practice? And of course, the standard questions What did I do wrong? Is it me or my equipment? Have I lost my mind wanting to shoot dance?
Now for the last group of images from the 2014 presentation of the gift. I have migrated to a new camera body just prior to this dance. I am not really sure how wise that was, but there it is. I have spent the last few weeks learning the camera and learning some additional lessons on dance photography, does it make a difference? This is a rather large set of images and I apologize, buy maybe I am starting to get this down..
The first set is the behind the scenes type shots. The dancers are warming up or relaxing. I also took the time to shoot some of the tech crew as well (that’s my buddy Paul in the first image and the guys responsible for me being allowed to shoot these!)
The next set are the performance shots and were taken during the tech and dress rehearsals.
And this last image is starting to show that maybe I am getting this. I saw this during tech rehearsal and knew when in the dance it was coming. Just prior to the appearance I made a mad dash to the location to prepare for the shot. I am rather proud of this one.
So, with all of this, do I stop asking the questions. No, I get the feeling that dance photography is going to be a life time obsession and that after every performance I will continue to ask the same questions. What did I do wrong? Is it me or the equipment that failed? What else can I do to improve the quality of the images that I am taking? I am really looking forward to continuing to grow as a photographer and maybe someday I can reach the standards that Richard Calmes and Scott Nilsson have set!