The importance of rapport and trust
Something oftentimes overlooked by both the photographer and the subject in photography, is, ironically, the human aspect.
A misconception a lot of photographers have, is that your gear and technical knowledge is what will make you a good photographer. Yes, knowing how to operate your gear is important, especially in dance photography, but when it comes to capturing images of people, knowing how to connect with your subject is just as critical. And for those looking for photographers, make sure you get a sense of who they are, and if they are compatible. I've had dancers tell me the experience they had with their photographer ruined the experience and resulted in images not what they had in mind.
Having worked with Payton and her family prior, we were able to build on what we've built from the previous shoot.
The reason why the colors are so deep and rich isn't what most people would guess. Yes the plants are well taken care of at the Garfield Conservatory, but the real reason is because of the light quality and editing.
The conservatory has a giant glass roof. And the day we shot, it was overcast. Which means the light quality is incredibly soft. Soft light with correct exposure settings allow the camera sensor to capture the full dynamic range (from light to dark) of a scene.
Now I put these three images side by side by side to illustrate a point about angles. Shooting from higher angle down, makes the subject look and feel smaller, more innocent. Typically, I don't shoot dancers from this angle. Dancers want to look tall and lean. But, it works in this scenario because I wanted Payton to look petite against the background. There is an ethereal feel about image a...as if she's a forest fairy. Image b was shot from a little bit below of eye level. It gives the image a more..."normal" look, which I think goes well with the more serious pose. And Image c was shot from a much lower angle. Combined with the specific pose we had chosen and the way I framed her, it makes Payton look leaner and taller.
Composition: Sub Framing vs Leading Lines
If you are going to shoot on location, please put more thoughts into where and why you shoot. When you shoot outside of a studio, the environment becomes part of the story. I've seen Chicago dance photographers , with its endless breathtaking locations, decide to shoot in front of random walls or with composition that detracts from the image.
One way to avoid looking like an amateur is by using leading lines and sub framing. Image c is a textbook example of sub framing...using the environment to frame your subject. There is a literal frame formed by the tiles that enclose Payton perfectly. Image a is an example of a more abstract sub framing. There aren't any edges that form a frame...but the foliage on the top left corner and lower right corner, gently surrounds Payton and focuses your eyes on the subject. Image b is a more subtle example of leading lines. The bench on the right and the row of plants on the right leads your eyes to the dancer. Not that Payton needs any help standing out, she looks absolutely stunning and powerful.
The difference between someone with a camera, and a professional photographer, is in the details.
Don't Forget The Person
In dance photography, it's quite easy to neglect the person and focus just on the dancer. During my shoots, I like to reserve some time to capture the person behind the dance. Image a was shot right in front of a door with glass windows. The soft light highlights Payton's face and creates catchlight in her eye. FYI, catchlight literally makes the eyes sparkle. Typically it's achieved with a flash, but when you understand lighting, you can take advantage of natural light available to you.
What stands out to me about image b is how elegant Payton is and how easily she pulled it off at such a young age. Typically a person her age tend to over do it...trying a bit too hard. Oh and before I forget, I'd like to thank Mrs Conrad for acting as my temporary assistant...especially for this shot. She helped arranged the edge of the dress neatly so the inner lining doesn't show and become a distraction.
Image c wouldn't be considered as a portrait by most people, and I can totally understand that. Payton is on pointe and in mid spin, but I don't really see it as a dance photo. To me it captures a playful and a little bit wild side of Payton...just so happens she's a talented dancer. I also love how her hair mirrors the shape of her dress.
This has nothing to do with dance photography. But it's important to highlight (get it...it's a photography pun...i'll see myself out) it takes a family to raise a dancer. It's really heartwarming to see her whole family involved from the planning stage to helping out during the shoot. Payton's dad the security, and Payton's mom the hair and make up specialist. And it's our tradition to take a silly family photo at the end of the shoot to commemorate the experience. Unfortunately, it's not all sunshine and roses. I found out during a wardrobe change break, that Mr. Conrad is a Packers fan. It broke my heart...I'm sure I will recover, but it's going to take some time. :P
Jeff Yin Is an international award winning Dance Photographer from Chicago.