Rain or Shine
Even though I focus mainly on dance photography in Chicago and internationally, I still have clients with different specialties contact me for shoots. Kim's shoot was one such instance. I just would like to say thank you, Kim, for putting your trust in my hands.
As with all of my shoots, I always have a line of communication with my clients. It is imperative we have a dialog going. One thing us photographers who work with human subjects NEED to realize, is it's just as important to understand and connect with your clients, as your technical and artistic abilities.
Find out why they want a photo shoot, find out what they are looking to achieve...that way you can craft a much personal story for them, and make the whole experience memorable.
I learned some back stories from Kim (for privacy reasons, I won't revel what they are), and we planned out our shoot accordingly. I did, however, told Kim that as prepared as we are, lets leave some room for creative improvisation.
This seemingly simple shot above, took about a dozen tries to capture. Even for someone as athletic as Kim. Her back arm seemed to have a mind of its own. Kim was surprised by how she had no control of what it does. :D
It is actually quite common. Even trained ballerinas I work with, who's been drilled hours a day, 5,6 days a week, for years, notice things in a photograph they don't notice in class. I wanted to take advantage of a rainy Sunday afternoon, with minimal traffic, to tell this undeniably Chicago story. I love the effortless height Kim achieved, and with her incredibly toned muscles flexing in mid air, yet, still graceful. Femininity comes in many different shape and sizes. Let's celebrate the strong women in our lives!
Happy accident! That's how I'd describe this set of images. It was not planned. Not the location, nor the poses. We were walking across the street and my underwear fell out of my bag. I knew it was going to rain, so I brought change of clothes. Kim was stuck at the medium waiting for me, and I thought: Hey, lets see what we can do here!
The jumping push up is an extremely difficult technique. A regular push up can be hard for a lot of people, let along trying to push yourself into the air while maintaining the form. I probably would have busted my face open If I tried that. The pose she is barely off the ground was also unplanned. I saw her prepare for the push, and saw how shredded her shoulder and arm were, and snapped a shot. The middle photograph isn't flashy. It's a pose of her about to push off the block. However, here are a few things I love about it. The determined look on her face sets the tone. The veins on her arms and her softball size shoulders shows raw strength. The wild hair covering half her face shows the chaos that is life. A lot of times, you aren't prepared for what's being thrown at you...do you run or do you take it head on?
During the consultation process, we talked about working shots of climbing into the shoot. I don't know how other photographers work, but I don't mess around when it comes to preparation. I've shot by the River Walk many times, but, I decided to do another round of scouting. When you start looking with different goals in mind, you start noticing things you haven't before.
The iron bridges over the Chicago River is a perfect place for a climbing shot. The iron beam splits the image into 2/3 and naturally draws your eyes to Kim. The angle also made it a little abstract. It's hard to tell how high up she really is. Same goes for the other climbing image. Even though at first glance, they both look similar, however, if you pay attention, they invoke different emotions. The bridge shot makes me a little nervous. It feels almost as if she's hanging on for dear life. Where as the second climbing pic, you can see the calmness and focus on her face. Her leg is in the frame showing support. She's also looking slightly upwards, showing the direction of her path.
The portrait in the rain was improvised. Something told me to stop and take this shot. This was captured after a few tries. We didn't feel the expression was authentic in the previous attempts. This is not a glamour shoot, I wanted to capture something raw. Even though it was raining, I wanted more. Since I can't control the weather, I asked Kim to use her water bottle. Right before the shots were taken, I pour water from the bottle on her head and waited till it started running down her face. One thing we learned that day, was water infused with mint stings the eyes. That's the kind of sacrifice I'm willing to make. :P
Another reason I scouted the area I'm already familiar with, is because we had this concept of hanging off of scaffolding, which I don't do for ballet shoots. Aside from Olympic style weight lifting, Kim is also big into calisthenics. The things she can do on a pull up bar is nothing short of jaw dropping. I found a location near a construction site, that was perfect for what we had in mind.
The silhouette photograph of her facing the cityscape and the sky might feel ominous, but I don't see it that way. To me, this image is about courage. Faced with uncertain future, possibly apocalyptic circumstances, she's holding on strong, unfazed. With the other two images, I wanted to be highly contrasty. That's when I busted out my off camera flash. Yes, I do flash photography as well. No photographer worth his/her salt, charging clients money, should ever have an excuse to not learn this integral photographic skill. By placing the flash to her side, it creates dramatic shadows. You really notice the separation in the pecs, and her abs. I'm going to emphasis here once more, this was never meat to be a portrait/glamour shoot. It's not supposed to be pretty and perfect. And I love that Kim completely understood that and was 100 perfect on board.
This set has some of my favorite captures...who am I kidding, I'm in love with images from this entire shoot! :D When I look at the back bend and hand stand shots, it reminds me of what it takes to reach your goals. In a metropolis of millions, it was a bit shocking to find a moment where it seems like the whole world is sleeping.
Regardless of what others are doing, you have to put in the work (this is something I personally want to work on). The gritty urban jungle sets the tone. It can be vast, cold and unforgiving. But, work still has to be done. The image of Kim jumping in the hair in the middle of the street encompasses the ethos of this photo shoot experience. There is a runner up to this image. A shot that was actually cleaner and more "perfect". But we both feel like this image spoke to us at a deeper level. This is her rebirth. This is her breaking out of her shell. This is her letting go of the past. This is her saying: world, you better fu*king watch out!
On a side note, the white specks in the photo are not rain drops...it's weight lifting chalk. I wanted to incorporate something personal from her life into the shoot. I had another idea, but the weather did not permit it. So, why chalk? Chalk, to a weight lifter, is not a luxury, it is essential! No powerlifter or Olympic weight lifter can live without it. Small details like this, can only be achieved when, you, the photographer, pay attention. It is the difference between a good experience and an unforgettable one. Make your clients feel special.
Kim and I have communicated after the shoot, as there were a couple of round of selection process. As much as it was a cathartic experience for her, I, learned quite a bit as well. There were couple of instances when I wasn't sure if something Kim suggested was safe. I had to put my trust in her hands as she had done to have trust in me. As an artist, I go through phases where I experience the dreaded"impostor syndrome". But, by working with someone who's just open to new experiences and willing to surrender to the moment, I found that I wasn't so much thinking, but observing and letting the skills I've acquired over the years to take over. I'd like to thank Kim for giving me to opportunity for me to learn and grow, and I will leave you with my after shoot tradition...a douche selfie :D
Jeff Yin Is an international award winning Dance Photographer from Chicago.