“The body says what words cannot.” ~ Martha Graham
Multi-talented photographer, Rachel Neville, has made it her life’s work to capture people who express themselves through the art of dance. After having kids, she decided to make photographing dancers her sole focus based on the thinking that if she had to spend time away from her kids, she needed to do what she really loved. So, she quit commercial photography, shooting weddings, portraits, etc. and let her feet follow her heart to New York City, an epicentre of dance in America.
“Dance is a communicative art; human connection and communication through movement, facial expression and gesture is what drives us to keep dancing; this is what I love most about working with dancers.” The best part of working with dancers is that everyone is different. Rachel works with dancers of all levels – dancers in training have different needs to professionals, yet they share a common goal, which is to have their lines and technique shown to their best advantage.
When going through Rachel’s work, you’ll notice that she loves using props. The reason for this is that they’re really fun to use. She says that the best way to start with creating an image that makes use of props is to visualise what you want it to look like. Have the dancer practice the movement to get the technique and lines right before you add the effects. Keep in mind that the dancer may not have the ability to do the movement full out 100 times, so working slowly and more deliberately is best. Once you and the dancer are happy, you can add the props or effects. “Remember that smoke and powder often shoot really well backlit.”
How do you work with more than one dancer?
Rachel’s work is complicated and sometimes involves capturing up to 14 bodies in a single shot. Naturally, I started to wonder how she approached this seemingly impossible task, but her answer was as lovely (and effortless) as her work. She said that when creating an intricate photo with multiple dancers, you should start with the essence, the core shape of the image you have in mind, and then refine the shape until you’re pleased.
“Why walk when you can dance.” ~ Ellen van Dam
How can I become a good photographer?
If you’re just starting out with photography, this is where you need to listen up. Rachel says that the best advice she could give any photographer is to start with one light and learn how to use it well before adding more. “Shoot a lot, make a lot of mistakes and look at every shoot objectively for improvement on the next shoot.” Network and marketing is key; don’t wait for the jobs to come to you, go out and find them!
Having an understanding of photography and dance is one thing; but having the drive to create something different and fresh is another. It’s about capturing dancers’ unrestrained, raw emotion in a fleeting second, and it takes time and dedication.
It also means that you should learn to understand the art of dance and to appreciate its technicality, so that you can anticipate when to press the shutter. It’s all about perfect timing, which you will master after long hours spent in the studio.