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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Being Photographed While Dancing


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A photography student working on her portfolio has asked if she could photograph my dancing (ballet). As I have no experience with this I would really appreciate any advice I could get.


I only know a few details at this point in time but I would like to go into this knowing what sort of things would work or not from a dancer's point of view. Is there anything I can do to make the session easier for the photographer? Is there anything I should watch out for that will look really bad on camera? The photography will be done in the dance studio.


Thanks in advance for any help!:)

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I'd really have more advice to give to the photographer on shooting sessions with dancers! You make it easiest for the photographers by just ignoring them and proceeding on, business as usual. The question is, what do YOU want out of this experience? Do you want a shot of that expressive, but not necessarily academic arabesque? Something in a nice grand jeté, frozen at the very peak of the step? A bit from the middle of a pas de basque glissé? Review the things you're going to do with the photographer and make sure that she knows what happens at which moment, then she'll have a better idea of what to shoot. Will you be doing this in a rehearsal or classroom environment? The rehearsal is much more predictable. Is this a one-on-one shoot? Try to have a teacher, or at least an experienced student "coach" about to help co-ordinate the two of you. And DON'T LOOK AT THE CAMERA while dancing unless it's called for.

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Realistically, once you see the photos you might want to burn them. Be prepared for that. Unfortunately, once the photographer takes a picture, it's generally out of your control.


I agree, ignore the photographer. Sometimes I've noted photographers trying to take pictures of me when I'm not dancing --- when I'm eating lunch, for example. I don't let them.

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when I'm eating lunch, for example. I don't let them

Somehow that made me laugh out loud!! :):o


Yes, as Citibob said, on the whole, don't expect all of them to be perfect. I have been photographed in the past, and out of an average of 100, I truly liked 2 or 3! :o

The photographer may select out of these about 40 good ones... But be ready to be disappointed. :)


Also, the big question I like to ask before starting a photo shoot is: Is the photographer a dancer him/herself (or does he/she knows what ballet is all about?) It's amazing how much difference that makes. Usually, 'those who know' would not select photos with a bad turnout, a half pointed toe etc... Unless it's done in a 'creative, blurry way'... ;)

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Thanks so much for your replies - it's wonderful to hear from people with experience in this area. Perhaps you would not mind if I ask for a little more advice?


I have learned a little more about the photo session since I first posted. The photographer would like to shoot both in the ballet studio and also in the photo studio. She is an assistant to a professional photographer and I looked at his website and wow... beautiful work... now I'm thinking - why me??? She is photographing dancers of many styles but it will be done separately. I hope that I can arrange for a teacher or someone who knows ballet to be there - but am not sure this will be possible.


The question is, what do YOU want out of this experience? Do you want a shot of that expressive, but not necessarily academic arabesque? Something in a nice grand jeté, frozen at the very peak of the step? A bit from the middle of a pas de basque glissé?


Mr. Johnson: Sigh! Yes... that's pretty much exactly what I would like (well, I hadn't thought of the pas de basque glisse.. but that's also interesting).


I would love to get a picture of a nice big jump - either grand jete (either battement or saut de chat), grand pas de chat, or grand assemble. I have been told that action shots are quite difficult... in order for the photographer to catch the right moment would it help to play music? I would probably do a tombe (or chasse), pas de bourre, glissade, big jump. I have a feeling that jumps with a turn in them have a greater probability for 'ugly inbetween positions'. Am I correct? I think jete entrelace or assemble en tournant would probably be a bad idea... ?


I would also be interested in hearing opinions on a way of drawing attention away from my slightly too short legs and focusing more on my neck and arms in an arabesque or attitude derriere. Is there a camera angle that would help?


citibob and balletowoman: I have no doubt that I will likely hate every single photograph.:)

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Do you have a video camera? If so, set that up in the studio some day and dance in front of it. Then look at the results frame-by-frame. If you see some good frames out of that, then you can hope for a few at a photo shoot. Otherwise not. After all, the video gets 30 frames per second, the photographer only gets a few here and there. You can learn a LOT from a practice session.


We we do action photo shoots, it's always on choreography we know absolutely by heart. It has to be totally by rote at that point. And music is essential so that everyone can agree on the timing --- in this case, so the photographer can snap the photo at the same time as you're doing your thing. It also gives your body a rhythm.


You can certainly try action shots, but don't be surprised if none of them come out very well. I would suggest some VERY SIMPLE still photos, ones you might think are way too easy. But those are the positions you know the best, and in which you have the best chance of forming perfect lines.


In the meantime, you ABSOLUTELY NEED your teacher (or someone whose eye you trust) working with you. Even small corrections --- a change of the angle of the croise, a bit more rotation of the leg in tendue --- can make a HUGE difference. Ballet is a visual art; without the teacher you are working blind. And problems in line that go unnoticed in performance can loom LARGE in a photo shoot.


As for drawing attention away from your legs? Not much you can do there and still look like a ballet dancer. Ballet draws attention TO the legs. Work on achieving a correct line --- lengthen your legs as long as they go, turn them out properly, rotate your body to the correct angle, SHAPE YOUR FEET, etc. If that's all done well, then there's a vast range of leg lengths that will look great.

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Whatever preparation you use, the photographer has to learn to hit the shutter so that it opens exactly at the peak of a pose or jump. Music might certainly help to get this right. It means that the shutter has to be pushed a split-second before the beat, so that it opens exactly on the moment. A turned step is not particularly advantageous for still photography, unless you're wearing a practice skirt or something that will convey the turn to the viewer. Otherwise a saut de basque might as well be some sort of jeté dessous if frozen in a still picture. Likewise, a jeté entrelacé's best photographic moment might just as well be any old sauté arabesque.


Ask the photographer to take a few shots from a very low angle, like from near the floor. That way the legs will really appear quite long. Get a few "bust shots", that is, just from the waist up if you want a viewer to home in on especially nice arms or neck.


Your photographer should be prepared to make three or four HUNDRED exposures between a ballet studio and a photo studio environment. Shooting for dance is especially difficult.

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Guest grace
I have been told that action shots are quite difficult...
oh yes indeed. garnet, i agree with citibob's first para. don't get your hopes up....it sounds as though the photographer has something in mind, in terms of what s/he wants to 'use' you for. it may well NOT be to make a balletically beautiful image - which is jolly hard to do, even when you DO want to.


certainly, if you have a teacher there, and take posed STILL shots, with sincere facial expressions, there is a better chance of getting something YOU might feel pleased or proud about.


action shots are usually just a total nightmare, in terms of the results YOU will get, and how YOU will look at them (i.e. from the self-critiquing dancer's point of view). the photographer may well be very pleased with things you HATE!


there is plenty of good advice in the posts above. i hope you end up with something that pleases you. just realise that for every well-captured moment you see in print, there may have been 20 or more ugly ones. don't let the results shred your dancer's self-image, too much - it's par for the course.

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There is some interesting information about photographing dancers in the book "Nureyev: His Life". It seems Nureyev had a lot of specific instructions when it came to photographing him while dancing. The biggest concern was the angle of the camera, which has been mentioned above. Whatever you decide to do, may you have the best of luck, your friend is fortunate to have a friend such as you!

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A note from the "other side" here.

I take adult classes a bunch of times per week (6 in a really good week, but 0 this week b-c I am on the road). I have been fortunate that the place where I take classes allows me to photograph the younger dancers when they perform, and they are a talented, photogenic, and friendly group. They also seem to like the results a lot better than I'd expect from a group of very image-sensitive teenagers.


It will help a lot if the photographer knows something about ballet.


Another thing that helped me quite a bit was shooting a whole lot of pics with a digital camera--this helped even despite the fact that I've already had a lot of practice with action shots in other venues.


Agree that if the photog doesn't know about dance it will really help to have a "coach"--some of the kids asked me to do their audition pics, and they were OK (I guess) but I felt that it would've been better for one of their teachers to be there to coach a little.


That's my $0.02, anyway.

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Thanks again everyone for your responses.


I decided to do a quick test with my digital camera on a timer delay setting to see what would happen. Of course there were the bad ones, the poorly timed ones, and the poor camera angles (the nice thing about a digital camera is that you can learn what you did wrong... and then you can erase the pictures) - but out of about 20-25 shots there were about 5-10 that were 'okay - but would benefit somewhat from a teacher's eye in terms of placement' (angle at which the photo was taken, angle of head, slight adjustment of arm, a little more rotation... yes, things that are a lot more obvious in a picture than in life) and even one or two that the only thing I would significantly change would be the background... and please believe me that I am saying this with a very critical eye. I'm not saying that there was nothing to improve upon - there is always something that could be better... but I was pleased. This was indeed a surprise... and probably a fluke based on the responses I've received so far... although I have been fortunate enough in the past to have teachers who really did emphasize correct placement and line right down to the shaping of the hands and the angle of the head... perhaps my body did learn something.


It was certainly a learning experience and I would really recommend working with a camera. Not only does it truly bring home concepts that are not necessarily obvious in class, e.g. just because your head is pointed in a certain direction it doesn't mean your eyes are (oops) and also that citibob is correct - either my legs aren't as short as I thought they were or if a correct line is achieved it helps to deemphasize this fact.


I am not going to get my hopes up in terms of action shots... thank you all for keeping me grounded on that one - but perhaps there is a chance that a couple of the still pictures will turn out okay. At least this will be a learning experience.

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Don't completely give up hope for good "action" shots. It does take practice to consistently nail dancers at the peak of jetes, but it's not that hard. If the photographer has previously worked with dancers, there's a good chance she's acquired the knack.


If your teacher isn't available to coach you during the photo sessions, draft an advanced student. It really does help to have an expert pair of eyes at the shoot.

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Guest Manhattnik

Certain digital cameras are able to take shots at up to 15 fps, and even "pre-capture" images, giving the erstwhile photographer a much better chance of catching that elusive dropped-crotch jete.

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