ON BALLET AND DANCE PHOTOGRAPHY
Article by Jeff Ryan Photography, Ottawa/Kanata Dance Photographer/Ryan Studio, Ont.
On a day of reckoning, while strolling quietly on the sidelines of my mind, the graceful footsteps of ballet dancers resonated above earth as cherubs, moving slowly towards my being, obtaining shapes of unknown specularity while reflecting one’s presence with guided form. I, was lost in this world of movement, often deemed irreproachable, but one featuring a replenishment of soul, sustenance, form, and aspiration.
In recollection as a young person, I was frequently subjected to questionable situations/events which were appropriate from an adults point of view, but, much later, after thoroughly questioning previous circumstances, I developed levels of recognition and appreciation pertaining to these former occurrences of artistry, shape, movement and design. Reflecting back upon these acquired mental resources, they were not misdirected incidents but a pathway to alternate levels of appreciation and interpretation from a probationer of his future trade. A particular experience in life that I was subjected to in early years was when my sister and I, were transported to a dance classroom twice weekly; and I found myself the recipient of plentiful visits as a spectator, being entertained by the accompaniment of piano and the slipper of ballet. Unbeknown to me at the time was occurring a development of my senses themselves, awakening to crescendos of thought in accordance to the magnificence of musical concertos, accompanied with alluring photographic embodiment. Eventually, having being subjected to years of the ballets poise and form, my sister became an instructor of many, and once again, I was a visual participant seated amongst novitiates of rhapsody striving to achieve their intended goals.
As a professional photographer, the sensitivity pertaining to the recording of dance must be addressed thoroughly with tremendous respect administered to not only my dancer(s) but the recording equipment as well. Capturing the transience of each selected moment in time is in itself, a study worth investing in, and one that dictates a depth of enlightened concern. As a photographer, most careful examination of the light outweighs all other circumstances particularly when working on location. An analysis of the time of day and season itself, determines not only the angle of light, but it’s colour temperature as well regarding exposure characteristics on a piece of professional film. My selection of props to compliment each pictorial must tastefully be addressed. Recognizing that their presence shall remain subtle at times, such as a visual motif designed to compliment and strengthen the subject matter accordingly in a visual, and unobtrusive sense. My choice of optic is paramount in portraying the ballet. A priority as well is ensuring the dancer will not suffer distortions visually when blending all elements including environment, colour of light, combined with electronic strobe and the accompaniment of diffusion materials. Much thought has to be invested prior to the recording of the moment. I analyse the dancers body in various lighting conditions which must be examined with scrutiny ensuring that she is turned sufficiently allowing the light to create a three dimensionality cascading across her dance wear producing highlight, shape, with the inclusion and placement of shadows as well.
To incorporate the characteristics of diffusion into imagery of this portraiture is frequently deemed acceptable however, knowing how the various levels of diffusion affect the completed portrait is mandatory prior to depressing the cable release. The gracefulness of ballet dancers and in addition, their varied clothing/costumes differ in tonality, length and colour. For respect of the dancer, these items must be taken into consideration to create a formal portrait which flows eloquently from highlight to shadow. (A brief digression re: diffusion. More detail in an upcoming column found in the “Photography Articles” section of my website)….Diffusion filters characteristically blend highlights into shadowed areas causing alteration in densities. In many instances which I have been subjected to, photographers have adopted the tendency to utilize maximum amounts of diffused filtration producing the softest effect possible which categorically, is incorrect in image creation. The expression of “less is more” is most appropriate in the production of diffused imagery whether creating a formal business portrait or employing the artistry of formal dance photography. As an individual of intent, I have frequently opted to construct my own diffusion filtration devices and decidedly “not being held in” by commercial application standards limiting the levels of ones creativity. Diffusion intensities are objective. Experimentation should be a prerequisite prior to the actual photographic engagement itself.
When working with ballet dancers, I frequently elect to meet with them in my studio weeks ahead of our portrait session to refine all details of the photographic session. Various locations are discussed as well as the poses of the dancers are reviewed, henceforth during the day of the scheduled event, all participants for the most part have a clear idea as to how to orchestrate themselves either individually or in a group presenting the most striking image appeal possible. An important suggestion to the reader would be that prior to utilizing any commercial venture location, to secure permission from security or upper management for specific locales. Violation (trespassing), of property rights will not be tolerated at different times/locations and one must secure the rights to usage of properties in the city or elsewhere, preventing themselves from being liable/sued. This assurance of typically, a one time usage, plus, obtaining a signed model release from your model(s) prior to your photo sessions date are absolutely mandatory.
When photographing on location with a group of dancers, I always’ ensure that I have back up camera and lighting equipment should any item fail during the session. Another consideration would be to rent additional equipment if a photographer does not have duplication of gear. One cannot be so assured that photographic materials are infallible despite the well recognized brand names. In addition, items that dancers may require such as towels/blankets for them to sit on should they be seated on the grass or elsewhere, so their gowns do not stain are often a necessity. Other valuable items are: cleaning products such as hand soap, fantastic, paper towels, bobby pins for their hair including combs, clean wipes, insect repellent when outdoors, Kleenex etc. I also ensure I have a good supply of bottled water for them if tap facilities are non operative, which has often been the case over many of my professional years.
Lighting ballet dancers outdoors in comparison to indoor sessions has been a challenge in my career depending upon the angle and position of the light. The reader should be informed that when I make reference to “the light” it is not only the direct sun I am making reference to. There are extraneous factors which can be utilized and deemed very beneficial as supplementary to the main light source being, light reflected off architectural structures and others of a neutral colour, that will not affect the colour spectrum of the film base. Some photographers I have conversed with over several years welcome overcast days when doing any style of outdoor photography to avoid the extreme ratios of highlight and shadow that the sun initiates. Generally speaking, camera products incorporating film or digital medium have a difficult time of rendering all levels of brightness in a scene as accurately as the human eye equates them to be. The finished portraits may not be as visually striking with the absence of the sun which adds a three dimensionality effect to the imagery, particularly when backlighting the dancers. For my level of photography when producing outdoor imagery on a clear day when the sun is not obstructed, I will commonly use two different methods of light control as “fill light” to control the shadowed areas of the scene. The favoured method is to purchase a very dependable portable professional electronic flash unit of reputable quality, which includes a variable power control source to either reduce or increase the intensity of light dispersed upon your subject. I do not recommend electronic flashes without power ratio control centres for the serious photographer involving any style of outdoor portraiture. These units with their limitation of features will create exposure difficulties prior to the image being exposed/produced. Diffusion panels containing a variety of materials to reflect, diffuse, subtract light or alter the colour spectrum of the sunlight are another option however, an assistant is often required to secure the panels position due to wind velocity and hold at the correct incident angle ensuring that correct levels of reflectivity on the model are achieved.
A photographer striving for artistic interpretation in his/her photography in a general sense, should welcome the opportunity of becoming familiar with the art of ballet. This will benefit one greatly and become successful at producing imagery of credibility in this field and applications elsewhere. Frequent visits to dance studios particularly when a class is in session (if permissible), will benefit photographic artists tremendously instilling knowledge pertaining to angle of body positioning, posture, proportion and refinement of movement. I have always had a tremendous respect for the diligence of ballet dancers, and this reverence must be established to work collaboratively with individuals in the beauty of high end dance photography.
In Closing While Meditating On Spiritual Thoughts Of Dance
At a point in time, while walking on a beach accompanied with my shadow, cupping my hands and filling them with sand, I placed these contents into a sifter nearby. Then, jewels appeared before me, thereby discarding the undesirable energy from my being. Following, I soared across the distant waterscape spiritually as a dancer does in flight only to find that I had arrived at the very place of my journey’s beginning. All was well, and nothing emotionally misplaced. The scourging of thoughtless mental suggestions caused an equilibrium of fulfilment clearly rewarded elsewhere.
With Good Wishes…..Jeff Ryan, Ottawa/Kanata Dance Photographer/Ryan Studio Of Photography, Ont. 2017
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