With Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook – pictures and videos are a big part of showcasing yourself as a dancer and performer – it’s not just about the head shots anymore… So how do you achieve that ultimate shot?
We pinned down Official MOVE IT photographer and unofficial Sleek photographer Drew Tommons a.k.a Virtuoso Imaging to find out exactly what is takes to be the focal point of an amazing image…
Hi Drew – let’s get to know you a bit better! How would you describe yourself in three words…
Driven, Optimistic, Resilient
We can definitely agree with that! Tell us how you became a dance photographer…
Back in 2009 my daughter’s dance teacher asked me to take some photos for her website. At the time, I was struck by how even very young dancers commit themselves to giving their best for a photograph. I was immediately fascinated by the technical aspects and how an image could look like a great picture to many people, but to a dancer or dance teacher could be just wrong! It was a very important lesson to learn.
In 2010, I had a fantastic opportunity to photograph a dress rehearsal at Birmingham Royal Ballet. That was the start of an ongoing relationship with some phenomenal performers and over the subsequent years, I have photographed many of these amazing artists on stage, in the rehearsal studio and on location.
In a world of social media how would you recommend a dancer visually presents themselves online?
Go the extra mile to create images that will stand out. Go for quality over quantity, and get your photographer to delete anything that your dance teacher wouldn’t be happy with! That said, try to go easy on yourself from time to time; dancers can be some of the most self-critical people on the planet!!
You’ve worked with some amazing dancers in your time. Tell us about some of your most memorable shoots and what you enjoyed about them…
From a personal perspective, one of my most significant shoots was with Victoria Marr, who at the time was a First Soloist with BRB (Birmingham Royal Ballet). After a full day of rehearsals she leapt around a rehearsal studio for me, with total commitment, (for 2 hours!) then an hour later, went on stage to perform in front of 2000 people! While it was a massive privilege to work one to one with such an outstanding professional who was at the top of her game, it also felt like a test and a challenge to produce the images that I had envisioned and something that she would like. Fortunately, not only did she love the images, it led to an ongoing working relationship and friendship that has led to many other great shoots. Our most memorable shoot has to be when we stopped the traffic one Saturday evening on Waterloo Bridge! Victoria was in the middle of the road, leaping about in her tutu with my assistant holding the light while I was trying to direct from the other side of the road. I had about 20 Chinese tourists behind me taking pictures on their phones and a lady stopped her car next to me, took her iPad out and started filming! I think was worth it for this image though!
Another highlight was being invited to photograph Roberta Marquez (Royal Ballet Principal Dancer for 12 years) in her final private rehearsal before her last ever performance for the Royal Ballet. Shooting with world class dancers is an intoxicating process and every shoot with amazing artists like Victoria, Roberta and dancers like Celine Gittens and Brandon Lawrence is very special.
What’s the best tip would you give a dancer on a shoot to help them showcase the best of their talent through photography?
Know what you want to achieve. The best shoots are when a dancer has done a bit of research and has a starting point. My job as a photographer is to take that and then help the dancer put their own identity into the images to make them their own.
Where do you go to find inspiration for your art, and where would you encourage others to find theirs?
The biggest challenge is to come up with fresh ideas that will get people to take notice. Location dance shoots seem to be increasingly popular but it’s not enough to just take a dancer out into the street and start snapping away. You need to consider all of the elements that go into creating an image. Concept, composition and lighting are critical and seem to be frequently overlooked.
I’m inspired by fashion and film of different eras. For example, watch ‘The Red Shoes’ and look at the lighting, every scene is beautifully and perfectly lit. Also look at the work of the great photographers of ‘yesteryear’ and see what they produced using film and much less sophisticated technology than we have now. While Instagram is great, if you look there for your inspiration, you may well just end up doing what everyone else is doing.
What do you think makes a dancer such a beautiful subject to photograph?
Where do I start?! Dancers, male or female, have that rare mix of elegance and grace, combined with the athleticism and power of Olympic athletes. They are the ultimate performers!