Dance on film

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I've been slowly experimenting with shooting film and recently had a chance to shoot in the studio with a very talented dancer - Vanessa Owen. Vanessa dances with a wonderful local dance company - Company E -  and also models for photographers. It was truly a treat to work with her.

In my exploration of film, I've been using a classic camera: the Mamiya RB67.  The RB67 is a medium format camera that shoots nearly square negatives on 120 format film. It was the workhorse camera for many years with any number of uses including the studio, landscape photography, portraiture, and many other things.  With the rise of digital technology, however, these cameras are available used for very little cost. While that's a sad commentary in some ways, it's good for photographers like me who want to try their hand at film photography without a big initial investment. It took a little while for me to figure out how to sync this camera with the strobe lights in the studio but once I did it was fun to play with the unique look of film and the contrasty studio light that I so enjoy. The film that I was using for this shoot was Kodak Tri-X, another classic of the analog photography era.  It has a unique look with visible grain and a somewhat contrasty appearance of its own.

In working with dancers, I find that a collaborative approach works best. We will generally start with an idea of how we want the image to look - especially the "pose" - and work toward creating it. Sometimes this pose emerges from the dancer's own invention, sometimes from my idea, or sometimes it comes from a set of images we found of other photographers whose work appeals to us. Known as a "mood board," this allows for ongoing inspiration over the course of a three hour shoot. Here is a link to the mood board we used for the shoot. Oddly enough, Pinterest is an ideal platform for constructing and sharing mood boards between models and photographers.

This image came from a pose that Vanessa herself struck.  When shooting digitally, we work to refine each pose by shooting and then looking at the image on the back of the camera to see what works and what doesn't. I remain in awe of dancers' ability to re-create a leap or a pose almost exactly while making a small adjustment.  Sometimes a hand is hidden behind a leg, hair is shading the face, or one part of the body looks fine while another part looks awkward. When working with film, however, we don't have immediate feedback and we have to hope that the shot will be good when the film is developed and scanned. In this case I think we succeeded. I was really happy with Vanessa's powerful pose, the lovely light and the wonderful, somewhat retro, look of Tri-X. 

I'd love to hear what you think. Please leave a comment if you have a moment.