My ongoing journey towards perfecting my skill is fueled by the passion of dance. Capturing these exquisite bodies in motion while expressing their art becomes an exchange of energy where an instant of beauty is held in time. The opportunity to capture these images with the latest array of amazing Sigma lenses makes this all possible. Many of the images you will see here are just a small part of a body of work that I have created over the last few years while using a variety of Sigma lenses.
In 2017, the Director of the Interior Design Center for MGM Resorts Int’l searched the internet for ballet images created specifically outside using architecture as an element. She found a group of images I had created and liked what she saw. I was contacted by her office and asked to submit about 30 more images. Several months went by and I continued to submit more images and then started to create images to their specifications. After months of customizing a selection of 20 images, we finally narrowed them down to nine. The entire process took about 6 months.
This collection of nine images were purchased by MGM Resorts Int’l and installed in the Park Theater in Las Vegas, Nevada as a permanent collection. These images are the only art work in this entire building and cover all three floors, the largest being 10 feet in width. Most of the images in this collection were softened and textures were added at the request of MGM Resorts Int’l. Some had complex backgrounds and costumes, while others were kept sharp and very simple. There are two images that are double exposures created in Photoshop from other locations and then combined with composites of the dancers. This image below, the before and after of Emi demonstrate some of the changes that were made.
What started out as a personal project supported by friends and wonderful dancers turned into an opportunity of a lifetime. Six of the images purchased by MGM Resorts Int’l are of Emi Arata, a Marketing Communications Rep. for Sigma, who is also a talented ballet dancer and eagerly posed for me at all times of the early morning so that we could capture the light I needed.
For anyone who is interested in photographing dancers, I’ve listed below some of the many things I learned along the way.
1. Show Movement
Showing movement can enhance your viewer’s experience. A slow shutter is one way to capture the feeling of your dancer spinning as you can see in this image of Emi. Using shutter speeds as low as 1/10 sec, your dancer will take on an almost ethereal look. It’s important to do this several times, as your dancer can also look a little bit strange. Try several different settings; lower shutter speeds to create the look you want.
2. Locations choices, Studio versus environmental
Pre-visualizing your backgrounds is an extremely important part of photographing dancers. In order to showcase them, your backgrounds can have a wide and varied range. You may choose from an outdoor environment with some kind of architecture, or shooting in the studio with an assortment of backgrounds such as light, dark or patterned. These can be enhanced with dramatic lighting that highlights your dancer’s pose or a patterned look to create an artistic effect. In this example of Chloe above, she is spinning in the studio against a busy background with a slow shutter. Constant lights were used and the additional image was blended into the background.
When photographing outside, let your dancer become part of the location as demonstrated in this image above. Emi’s arms have taken on the look of the branches behind her. In order for the image to make sense, tying the background to the dancer’s moves makes for a much more cohesive story.
3. Study the positions of your dancer and how to showcase them
Your lighting style is also your signature. Every image you create has a story that you tell through your light, angles and perspective. Ballet dancers are used to telling stories with their bodies and their expressions. They work hard on perfecting their performances and it’s your job to understand what is possible. Having your dancer show you what their pose looks like prior to shooting will help you understand how best to capture it.
4. Creating storyboards of different dance poses for your dancers.
Take some time and study other dance images to look for inspiration for both yourself and your dancers. Most dancers are used to moving and dancing, not posing. Showing them what your vision is and asking if this is something they can do is extremely helpful when starting these sessions. Once you’ve agreed upon a position the work begins.
5. Styling the sessions with costumes
Most dancers will not have their own costumes. If you have a certain look you want to create, start collecting or designing costumes. Become familiar with ballet companies that sell clothing for dancers and pay attention to what they look like. My preference is for dresses that move in the wind and outfits that will showcase the dancer’s body. Part of the beauty of the image is showing off these incredibly muscled bodies. Sometimes a very simple and classic look is all you need.
6. Understanding the importance of light quality when creating dramatic dance portraits
Beautiful, dramatic light will make a huge difference in any portrait that you create. It’s what I love about photography. Once you have seen the light you can never not see it again. It will make a good image a great one. Great lighting will bring your imagery to life and not only create interest but will help your viewer to feel an emotional connection and give them a reason to continue to look at the image. This image above of Lauren was created inside a studio hallway. She was placed inside the middle of the first opening so that the continuing arches would show. Then a strobe was placed behind her and a large soft box was placed behind me. The effect was very dramatic. Using strobes will help stop the action of the jump and keep the image in focus.
7. Have Fun
This final image of Emi was created very early in the morning. We managed to find a small courtyard in which to photograph and decided it might be fun to have Emi dancing on the tables. Sigma’s 50mm F1.4 DG HSM | A is by far my favorite lens to use when I’m creating ballet images. The perspective is the most natural to what our eye sees and gives a real sense of the actual scene. Adding the blur effect to the image gives the viewer an appreciation of the dancer’s movement.
Most of the techniques I’ve mentioned apply when creating portraits of any kind. I hope by sharing some of the things I learned while pursuing this project will help you to become a better photographer as they did for me.
Here are the lenses used to create this project: