Hello, and welcome to my web site on ballet photography. I have been photographing various types of dance on and off for more than 30 years, and I am particularly drawn to the composition and design that I find in ballet photography. Some of my ballet images have been included in a number of one person and group exhibits of fine art B&W photography over the years.
Some of my most interesting photographs have resulted from working with The Washington Ballet, beginning in 1981. A problem with working with an established ballet company can be that most or all of the company dancers are under contract to the organization, and so are not free to sign a release for private photographs. Therefore, my work in the studio is mostly with WB trainees, students from the Washington School of the Ballet, or from local dance schools, selecting dancers that I feel might be particularly photogenic. For a number of years with the Washington Ballet I was fortunate in being able to get limited releases for some of my dress rehersal photographs, in exchange for allowing them to use the selected photographs for their publicity and promotional uses. These releases allow me to exhibit and sell these photographs.
You may note in reading this web site, that I include more details than might be usual in a normal "fine art" web site. This is due to my dedication to education and teaching, and my desire to include details here that might help my readers (some of which I know from their messages are dancers or parents or friends of dancers) take better photographs of dancers they know. In addition, I am sure that a number of students from the Washington School of Photography (where I am a faculty member) will also be looking at the web site, and I want to be helpful to them as well. I teach a one-day workshop on Photography of the Ballet several times each year at the school, among many other classes, workshops, and tutoring sessions.
After a number of years, in 2010 I re-established contact with the Washington Ballet, and have had the opportunity to photograph a number of their trainees. I also recently had the opportunity to photograph several excellent dancers from the Metropolitan Ballet (MD). All of these young ladies are wonderful dancers, and below are a few of the images which show just that.
The rest of this web site is set up in a very simple manner. I first have a number of photographs of ballet students or individual dancers from a number of years ago, taken in a dance studio or photography studio. Following these images will be a series of photographs of the Washington Ballet, taken during their dress rehersals. Many of these latter photographs were taken in the early or mid-1980's, when Choo San Goh was the resident choreographer for the Washington Ballet.
One studio photograph that I particularly like I call "Dancing Feet". It was taken in the studio of a local dance school, with several of their students who had asked me to photograph them for their high school yearbook. One of the photographs I took was of the ballet shoes, feet and leg warmers of one of these teenage dancers, which had a special look I really liked. I then printed the image using a special "chemical etch" procedure that gives the photograph a look like a charcoal etching (this is using wet chemical processing). It has been one of my most popular ballet photograph to date, having sold a number of large fine art prints to various dancers, collectors and ballet enthusiasts. It is also by far the most difficult print to produce that I have ever made, due to the very time intensive "chemical etch" procedure. I have included a digital image copy of it below: I think that it has a particularly interesting look. These digital copies have almost the same look as an original chemical etch print.
Several other studio images are included below, taken in my photography studio. These are often of ballet students, but occasionally I do get the opportunity to photograph professional dancers, if they currently are not under contract. Some of my most recent ballet photographs have been taken in the large studio at the Washington School of Photography (WSP) (Bethesda, MD), where I am a faculty member and Technical Director. I have have been teaching classes and workshops at WSP for almost 30 years. A recent addition to my workshop schedule at WSP is a one day workshop in ballet photography, with usually two workshops held during each year.
It is interesting to note that every dancer has a different "look", and it can be exciting to work with a particular dancer, experimenting with different techniques, lighting, and poses in the studio until I can a obtain a photograph that captures the images I see in my head. For the photographers and photography students out there, most of the studio photographs were generally taken with studio electronic flash lighting, with the exception of the "Dancing Feet" image above, which was taken with available window light. Of course, flash photography of any kind is never allowed during dress rehersals or performances, for dancer safety reasons.
The Swan Lake photograph above was taken during a dress rehearsal of the Young Dancers ofthe Washington Ballet. The Young Dancers were a preprofessional group of senior students from the Washington School of the Ballet. This photograph was taken at dress rehearsal the day prior to the start of their autumn series at the Lisner Auditorium. I love the way that Stephanie looks, like an angel floating in the air. The photograph was published in Dance magazine as well as used by the WB in a number of their publications.
Below are a number of B&W photographs from my many years of photographing the Washington Ballet, including several that are in the permanent collection of the Valparaiso University Museum of Art. In 1994 I had an extensive exhibit of my ballet photography at the University, comprised of more than 40 of my B&W ballet images, printed to approximately 11"x14" and matted to 16"x20". That exhibit resulted in their selection of four of my photographs for their extensive collection of contemporary photography.
These WAshington Ballet photographs were taken during dress rehersals, so opportunities for experimenting with the lighting were not available. They were taken with available lighting, which was a combination of tungsten stage lighting and carbon arc spotlights. Since these photographs were taken a number of years ago, they were all captured with film cameras and processed and printed personally. A fast B&W film was used (most often Kodak 35mm Tri-X), and usually pushed processed to ISO 1600 speed. At that film speed I could normally shoot at about 1/250 second at f2.8 (if all stage lights were on fully; sometimes they were not, so had to guess at the exposure correction). The lenses I found to be most useful for these shoots were a Nikon 85mm f1.4, a Nikon 105mm f1.8, and the excellent Nikon 80-200mm f2.8 zoom lens, all used in manual focus. The additional visual clarity available when using the f1.4 lens helped considerably in rapid focusing on a moving subject in the relatively dim light. I currently use a Nikon D3 DSLR camera with a variety of lenses, including still the Nikon 80-200mm f2.8 zoom.
When photographing the Washington Ballet I especially liked the choreography of Choo San Goh, including in particular the highly reflective unitards that he often used on the dancers, both male and female. I found them to photograph extremely well, and gave a dramatic visual look and composition to the images. The reflection of light off the shiny cloth helped to define the body outlines against the dark backgrounds, a point often missed by some other choreographers. His passing at a relatively young age was a real loss to the ballet community and to the Washington Ballet in particular.
Finally, below is a photograph of the Washington Ballet Company, made in 2001. That year I was asked to photograph the entire company and many of the individual dancers. This photograph is particularly significant to me because it includes Amanda McKerrow, guest soloist, who was a rising star with the WB when I first started to photograph them in the 1980s.
I hope that you have enjoyed my ballet photographs. Thank you for visiting this web site, and I hope you will come back to visit me again. I will be expanding it with new and additional images of the ballet every so often, in particular with new and exciting young dancers. If you are interested in additional kinds of photography, I invite you to visit my general photography web site at donbeckerphoto.com
Also, please take a moment and sign my guestbook, found here: View my guestbook It would be nice if you indicated whether you are a dancer or photographer as well, even if you are just starting out. Thanks.
Contact Information: For questions or information about my ballet photography feel free to contact me by e-mail at donb(at)ballet-photography.com.
Also, please visit my general photography website at donbeckerphoto.com
Click here for information on the Washington School of Photography
Links: For information about the Washington Ballet and their production schedule visit their website at the WashingtonBallet.org
An invaluable link to an excellent forum on questions and answers for all things ballet is Ballet Talk. Once there, just follow the prompts to visit the appropriate sites for ballet parents and enthusiasts, or for ballet dancers.