Romeo and Juliet and the difficulty of dance photography. / by charlotte macmillan

For some jobs and commissions I shoot from the front of house in the Theatre, but my preferred environment to shoot dancers is in a photographic studio. I like to take time with a dancer, see how they move, work out the best angle for them. Which is why I take my hat off to all production photographers of dance. Boy, is it hard work. 

Ballet dancers are beautiful. By default they make the most incredible shapes and the naked human eye sees a series of movements which are punctuated by precise technical 'full stops'. The pirouette, the jeté, the arabesque, all those incredible moves are designed to make a shape that lingers. So when one shoots a moving dancer, it is crucial to try to time the shot to get these specific shapes and not a series of dodgy feet and arms in mid flow.

Sometimes when you look at old dance magazines and books, the ballet photography is shockingly bad. But that's completely understandable. Cameras were basic, lighting was poor and really there hadn't been a demand for dance photography until the 1940s when magazines such as The Dancing Times' circulation expanded. But in the 1960s photographers such as Roy Round, Anthony Crickmay and Zoe Dominic began to take extraordinary shots and the demand for the perfect performance image increased. In the 1990s dancers such as Sylvie Guillem began to vet the photographs of herself.  She controlled her image by asking photographers to sign agreements that allowed her to have final say over the image. And right she was. It is almost impossible to find a bad photograph of Ms Guillem anywhere.

So now I am taking dance production shots again. And like I said, I like to control the image by shooting in my environment, with the luxury of having the dancer dance again and again until I get the right shot. Today I had one hour to get a few good shots of Sarah Lamb and Steven McCrae. As I clicked away, to the beat of the music, I despaired of all the 'off' shots I was taking. Frame after frame I felt that I was missing the climax of the step, just missing the perfect pose.

In the edit, I can see I didn't do so badly. I got a load of good shots but I think I sweated buckets trying to get them. I applaud great photographers such as Bill Cooper and Johan Persson, who know what they're doing. I suppose it helps that they had previous careers as dancers but that's not to discount the immense photographic talent that they have too..

I am glad with this shot; it captures the moment just after Juliet meets Romeo at the ball. I'm pleased with it because although it's a dance photograph, Steven's pose is not the focus of the shot more Sarah's look of love.

Steven McCrae and Sarah Lamb in Romeo and Juliet, The Royal Ballet.

Steven McCrae and Sarah Lamb in Romeo and Juliet, The Royal Ballet.