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Recently, photographer, Sarah Silver invited me into her studio to shoot some behind the scenes photos of her photo shoot with the Stephen Petronio Dance Company, for their upcoming performances at the Joyce Theater, in New York City between April 8-13. Sarah is a fashion photographer based in New York City and has worked with clients and projects such as Vogue, Tresseme, and America’s Next Top Model.
After the photo shoot, Sarah was kind enough to let me interview her about the details for this shoot and share them here on Tuts+. In this interview, Sarah and I talked about several topics from how to organize a large shoot, to the gear she used, and even some tips on how to shoot moving subjects. Let’s take a look!
Before we get into the interview, let's take a look at some of the final imagery from this photo shoot, which includes photos, and a short film.
I first met Stephen in 2000. I saw his company perform at the Joyce Theater in NYC and I was immediately captivated by him. At that time I was looking for a subject for my graduate thesis from SVA. I knew as soon as I saw him perform that my search was over. I called him, and that was the beginning of a collaboration that started with our first photo shoot in 2001.
This shoot was extremely special because it’s for Stephen’s 30th anniversary season. We decided to go back to our roots of 2001 and use our first shoot as inspiration. The original images used a flat turquoise background that was custom painted and was much more abstract than anything we have done since.
We took our original shoot as a jumping off point and then moved way beyond our 2001 mindset. We were trying to abstract the movement, letting body parts flow in and out of the frame organically.
Dance photography typically has all the action in the center of the image at one key point in the top most timing of a movement. Instead, in these photographs the most dynamic part of the image may be happening just off the edge of the frame.
After reading this question, I really had to think: what has changed? I always liked having a large group on set. It’s kind of like a photography party and for me, the more people means the more energy colliding, and the more emotions flying. Especially when shooting Petronio, this happens automatically because there are so many dancers in the company at the photo shoot.
I also have always been a big fan of technology, and while there are definitely a lot of changes that have taken place in the last 13 years, I always try to shoot whatever is the top of the line. I think what has changed most significantly for me is my style. When I was coming out of grad school 13 years ago, I wanted everything to have a layer of polish that gelled with my personal love of perfection.
These days I’m always trying to find ways to “mess up” or “deteriorate” the image, and I want to make “happy accidents” again. Once you learn the rules the hardest thing to do is forget them.
I think with practice, it’s actually not that difficult to produce a job of this size. And maybe since I’ve been doing it for 13 years, this type of production doesn’t seem too tough? The key is, one must be organized, but after that it's relatively simple. Basically, you make sure you have a person for each crew slot (ie: assistants, hair & makeup, talent, etc) and then you make a call sheet that lists everybody.
The call sheet is the glue that keeps the job working and allows you to see if you’re missing any of the key players. Then just make sure you have a confirmed location and food to feed everybody and at the right time.
It typically takes an hour to set up a simple shoot, possibly a whole day for a more complicated set (and in that case you would allocate a day for a prelight). I also scheduled the shoot for 10 hours. Yes, in theory you can shoot for 16 hours if you really needed or wanted to, but no dancer can keep going that long.
The idea here is to maximize the amount of time you have with each dancer and not to “over shoot” them because they get tired of jumping over and over. So with the idea that we had 10 hours to shoot I allocated time for hair and makeup and then divvied up the shooting time with what was left after fast wardrobe changes and a lunch break. Special thanks to Jordana Abisdris for contributing to this answer.
Stephen chose these costumes because “We [were] focusing [on] black for new costumes and wanted the contrast with set.” Makeup and hair were chosen in a similar manner – something to contrast with the set and also to accentuate the minimalist concept of this year’s shoot.
You don’t have to be best friends with your client but you DO have to understand their vision and their concerns. Once you know what they want (even if they can’t directly explain what they want) you can take the shoot so much further. The ultimate goal is giving them something they always wanted but didn’t even know they wanted.
I wanted to shoot video and stills for this shoot concurrently so I needed to use continuous light that would also freeze motion. Because we were limited by the light - this meant I had to shoot a high ISO. I also wanted a lightning fast auto focus and quick capture in tethered mode in Capture1. This was easiest to achieve on a Canon.
- Camera: Canon 5D Mark III
- Lens: 70-200 mm lens f2.8
- ISO: 800
- Shutter Speed: 1/200TH Second
- Aperture: f/ 6.3
When I’m shooting dance I usually pre set the focus and then have the dancers move on or into my plane of focus. The light is set to be optimal in this position as well, so everything is best in this ONE place.
I also don’t shoot a continuous shutter because in my experience dance is NOT sports, there aren’t multiple beautiful moments, but carefully chosen places in the moment where the feet are pointed and the body taught.
Ryan used the Ikonoskop A-cam dII, a 16mm digital cinema camera. The Ikonoskop uses a sensor made by Kodak. The interesting thing about it is the technology inside isn't possible to manufacture for 35mm sensors.
From a $700 DSLR to a $70,000 Arri Alexa, almost every digital movie camera uses a CMOS camera, basically a black and white sensor with a Bayer "mosaic" in front of it. With CMOS, each photosite only knows how red, how green or how blue it is, so color is always an interpretation. On the Ikonoskop, light strikes the sensor through layers of red, green and blue, much like on film. The output is 100% uncompressed RAW, so there's no compression at all -- the result is a beautiful film look that's extremely flexible in post. The camera gives you a folder full of raw stills, just like a roll of movie film.
These stills become clips when opened in software like Da Vinci Resolve, Adobe Premiere or After Effects, and the control over color and exposure is amazing. Ryan and his colorist Sanja Blau used Resolve to match the Photoshop process we used on our stills. This created a look that brought my film into the world of my still photography. Special thanks to Ryan De Franco for contributing to this answer.
We used 2 Kobold DW800 HMI’s on each side of the background facing 13 foot foam core trees that bounced the light back evenly onto the background to give us a relatively flat look. For the key lights we used a Broncolor Para 222 parabolic reflector with a Kobold 400 HMI head high off the ground and angled quite acutely.
The light was off to the left and cast beautiful direction light on both the subject(s) and the background. For a little fill (especially on the feet) I had a 4x4 kino on the bottom left foreground of the set.
I have a really killer digital cart that has space for two shoot computers and two monitors mounted as well as bunch of other accessories. Then I have a third monitor on a rolling stand connected to a long cord so that I can be far away from the shoot station but still see exactly what’s on the screen (especially when I’m shooting from the floor). The computer was a Mac Pro with three Eizo CG210 monitors and Phase One’s CaptureOne software. This setup is ideal for a client to watch from the shoot station on one monitor and not be standing on top of the tech who has his own monitor.
I like to “tweak” the images in the capture software because you have so much control and you can show the client exactly what he/she is taking home with him/her. It’s not a good idea to say “just imagine that …” and much better to just deliver to them on set what they will be having in the final images, or at least as close as possible.
And if you’re going to make any special color adjustments they see it from the beginning and are on board. Basically it makes the whole process easier when everybody is a-ok with the final product.
Most of the time it works like this: As soon as the shoot is wrapped the rough selects are exported and then uploaded to a dropbox folder or exported to a drive/DVD that is shared with the client. The client then picks his/her favorites and those shots are sent to the retoucher along with a drive with the entire shoot.
I send everything because you never know when you need a piece from another shot. The only difference on this shoot was that the selects were made 100% on set by Stephen and the retouching passed along immediately after the shoot.
The photos will be used online and in print to promote Stephen’s 2014 Season which will premier a new work entitled Locomotor at the Joyce Theater in NYC between April 8 -13.
Thank you, Grant, we loved having you on set. I would like to tell all aspiring photographers that finding a strong collaborator is an immensely rewarding process. I can’t even guess where I would be today without Stephen and our yearly collaborations.
Working so closely with other artists really gives a photographer new perspectives, and so much of what I do first on my sets with Stephen end up in my own commercial and editorial work. It’s a great backdrop in which to try new things.
More Behind the Scenes Photos
- Sarah Silver: Website | Twitter | Instagram
- Stephen Petronio Dance Company: Website | Twitter | Instagram
- Buy Tickets
- Stephen Petronio Spring Benefit Gala
- Artistic Director: Stephen Petronio
- Stage Manager: Kelly Brown
- Photographer: Sarah Silver
- Photo Assistant: Aaron Muntz
- Photo Assistant: David Perkins
- Digital Tech: Frank Thompson
- Producer: Troy Covey
- Studio Manager: Jordana Abisdris
- Director of Photography: Ryan Defranco
- Makeup/Hair: Jen Navaro
- Behind the Scenes Photos: Grant Friedman
- Intern: James Conkle
- Intern: Nicolette Sarsoza
- Davalois Fearon
- Josh D. Green
- Gino Grenek
- Barrington Hinds
- Natalie Mackessy
- Jaqlin Medlock
- Nicholas Sciscione
- Emily Stone
- Joshua Tuason