Washington Monument — Washington, D.C., April 2017
Washington Monument — Washington, D.C., April 2017
Storm clouds at the Garden of the Gods — Colorado Springs, Colo., July 2017
In bloom — Alexandria, Va., July 2017
Rain drain — New Orleans, June 2017
Street confetti — Washington, D.C, July 2017
Bench honoring Matthew Shepard at the University of Wyoming — Laramie, July 2017
Escalator track — Denver, Colo., July 2017
Mirroring the sky — Washington, D.C., March 2017
This is an edited narrative of a presentation I gave at the National Dance Society’s annual conference on Aug. 4 in Norfolk, Va. Photos included in this blog entry were taken during classes offered to area students and attendees at the conference. My wife, Jill, also was a keynote speaker at the conference, talking in separate sessions about mental health and bullying.
The purpose of this session is to talk about the role of the dance photographer so you can capture and promote the work that you do as educators and studio owners. But first, let’s start with a bit of background — the “why” you’re listening to this person on a sunny, summer Friday afternoon.
Here’s what I’m not:
Here’s what I am: A photographer, writer, storyteller, husband, father, and the son of two teachers. I learned my way around a camera out of necessity while working as a journalist and communications professional, and was told I had an eye for it.
Like many parents, I found myself taking pictures at my kids’ major events, including their dance recitals. The limitations of my camera and lenses made it difficult get much, however, and I did not know enough about dance to capture the proper technique.
Over the last four years, since going out on my own, I’ve learned how to capture the art of dance, both in performance and in various settings that make up my “Art & Dance” series. This series, primarily focusing on young, pre-professional dancers performing on city streets, in an abandoned church, in a creek, in a subway tunnel, and under a bridge, among others, has been profiled in a Northern Virginia arts magazine and has been the subject of three exhibits at a local art gallery. You can see my photos on my website — http://glenncook.virb.com.
What I’ve discovered is that these types of photographs are powerful marketing for educators and studio owners. So let’s spend a little time looking at photography, the basic technical information you need to know, and ways you can broaden your audience.
Getting the Right Equipment
Photography is, like any art form, both independent and interdependent. Yes, anyone can take a picture, and technology has made it easy to capture beautiful shots with our phones. But if you want to shoot dancers, especially during a performance, your iPhone won’t do the trick. In fact, rather than promoting your brand, it dilutes your impact.
The reason, not to get too technical here, is cell phones do not have what is known as an SLR, or single lens reflex. This allows you to focus, click and — if your light and shutter settings are correct — stop action. Your phone camera can’t do all of those things at once, especially in dim light, and it can’t do some of them at all.
So that means you need “a real camera,” and depending on the complexity of what you’re trying to capture, the reality is that a “real camera” and good lenses don’t come cheap.
Here’s why: Going beyond composition, photography comes down to two things — light and speed. This is where photography is most interdependent. If the two are not in sync, it will be difficult to capture what you want to achieve, even if everything is perfectly composed and in focus.
In most performance settings, you will need a camera that can handle low light really well. This is where ISO, the setting for how much light you allow into the camera, comes into play.
If you’re shooting outside, you can normally set your ISO on 100 (brightest), 200, 400, 640 or 800 (getting dim, but still light out). When you’re indoors, you likely will need your ISO settings to start at 1600 (if you’re lucky), 3200 (if there’s good lighting), and 4000 or 5000 (most common).
Although technology has improved greatly, it’s still hard to find an inexpensive camera that can shoot with the speed you need at ISOs of 4000 or 5000 consistently without too much “noise,” which affects the sharpness of your picture.
This is further complicated by the speed factor. To stop a dancer’s motion without blur, you need to have a shutter speed of at least 1/200th of a second. Anything less — whether you’re outside or inside — and you will get blur. Sometimes you can get a flash to sync at 1/200th of a second, but I haven’t been to a performance yet where you can shoot photos with a flash.
So if you decide to take this on yourself, remember these things:
Shooting a Live Show
Photographing a live performance is one of the most difficult and demanding things I’ve done. You have to learn how to anticipate the action, and find ways to shoot so that both technique and emotion are captured. Yes, you want the leaps and jumps, but it’s also about telling the story of the work your students are doing.
This again, speaks to the interdependence of photography. Understanding the story being told on stage is key to capturing the big moments, and the small ones as well. Knowing generally where the performers will be positioned also is helpful.
In most cases, a photographer will not shoot the actual live performance, but a dress rehearsal. This prevents you from disrupting the paying audience and gives you time, in case anything bad happens, to ensure that you get decent shots. It also offers you flexibility because you can shoot from all areas of the performance space.
What happens all too frequently is a photographer will set up in the back of the auditorium and shoot from the same spot. This does capture the show itself, but it prevents you from getting those small moments of emotion that help you tell the story.
So what does this mean for you?
Storytelling and Photography
You have millions of ways to tell stories today. Video, stills, audio, the written word. You are in a visual medium, and social networking — despite the political wars many get into on Facebook these days — is geared toward the visual.
This should be a great match, so why don’t you invest in it? And why do you accept poor quality, or opt for the cheap stock art, rather than focusing on your performers? As you put your shows and performances together, do you think about how you will tell the story to the outside world?
Folks are interested in process, the “how” of you put something together. Behind the scenes videos, photos, and short narratives are increasingly popular because of the online world’s endless thirst for content. You don’t have to have high production values for these types of stories; simple iPhone interviews often will do.
As the performance nears, this is where you need to engage a professional photographer and talk about telling your story. Consider having a promotional shoot that can be used for posts — posters, post cards, online posts.
Finally, as the show/performance nears, have the photographer shoot the dress rehearsal. Let your cast know the photographer has free reign to walk around. Say you want 10-15 shots to use for social media purposes immediately; the additional photos can be sold or made available for download to parents.
There are many ways to do this effectively, but being willing to partner and plan is key. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve been asked to shoot something at the last minute. The photos turn out decently, but they would be so much better if I had the opportunity to meet and plan beforehand.
Make It Work for All
I understand that your bottom line on these types of performances is often razor thin, and photography is the first thing to get cut when finances are tight. But you can be creative and original in ways that are fair to everyone involved.
This is my pitch/plea to you: In addition to remembering the photographer in your planning, be prepared to work out some sort of financial arrangement for the work he or she does.
Many photographers I know are willing to go the extra mile for their customers, but free is not acceptable. Think about how you feel, as a business person, when someone constantly asks you to do something without compensation of some sort.
As fellow artists, we understand the financial constraints you’re under, but you can make it work. Telling a photographer he or she can “sell” pictures in lieu of a shoot fee is, unfortunately, a nonstarter. We are in a share society, not a sell society, where consumers feel like they can get their music and media for free.
Here are some things you can do:
That’s it, really. If you know your audience, assess your needs, make marketing your story integral to what you do, and work with your photographer and your students to tell it, your audience will be much more engaged in the great work you do.
A dozen of my Facebook friends have birthdays today, but none is more important than my sister's. Happiest of happys to Julie, who is now closer to 50 than 40. There may be no more AstroWorld in August, but a Dairy Queen toast will do!
Random memories after hearing the news of Glen Campbell’s death: Small snippets of his variety show on my parents’ TV. Seeing his albums in my dad’s record collection. Hearing of his friendship with Elvis, who covered many of Campbell’s biggest tracks, and his association with the fabled Wrecking Crew.
Telling people that I wasn’t named after him, noting that my first name had two n’s and not one. Thinking it was a big deal that Galveston, just a few miles away from Texas City, was immortalized in a song. True Grit, Rhinestone Cowboy, Southern Nights. And of course, Wichita Lineman and Gentle on My Mind.
The demons and drugs that bedevil so many artists, leading to his four marriages, eight children, and DUI arrests. The Alzheimer’s diagnosis that, like ALS and other diseases, rot your mind and/or rob your body.
The poignancy of his final years. A biography that would make a great country song.
As many of you know, I’m a huge Paul Westerberg and The Replacements fan. Campbell’s last album — Ghost on the Canvas — is named after a Westerberg song that he covers. I’ve shared the video, in which Westerberg appears, at other times. But it’s appropriate to share again.
Alone in a crowd — Pottsboro, Texas, June 2017
Wet night, red lights — Salisbury, Md., July 2017
Raindrops and leaves — Arlington, Va., July 2017
A few random thoughts from the past week:
• Line of the day: Treat others how you'd like to be treated and we'll all live happily ever after.
• RIP to Sam Shepard, a renaissance man and true artist, in many more ways than one.
• Beyond proud of Nicholas as he starts grad school in Elon's iMedia program, and grateful for the time we've had together during his "funemployment" tour.
• My life's hashtag should be: #justcan'twaittogetontheroadagain. This week, I drove to Norfolk for a dance conference, then turned around and went to Pittsburgh to move Emma into school, where she is working as a "resident educator" — most of us call them RAs — this year. Look at how much our girl has grown up since the far left picture was taken at the start of her freshman year last August.
On the political front…
• This is life at the White House:
• Breaking "news": Revolving doors with gold plated T's belatedly installed in West Wing at cost of $1.2 billion. Trump blames media.
• And one more on the subject courtesy of Bloom County.
Rooftop view — Washington, D.C., March 2017
Two more recent freelance stories look at the effort to integrate the arts into STEM curriculums around the country. The stories, which are part of a Technology column I write for the National School Boards Association, can be found under the header “Building Up STEAM” at http://glenncook.virb.com/freelance
Cemetery rose — New York City, May 2017
Indoor/outdoor plants — Lorton, Va., October 2016
Rooms available — Cheyenne, Wyo., July 2017
Art therapy is a fast-growing but still relatively new practice around the world, having started in the early 1970s in the U.S. and Britain. In a story for the magazine International Educator, I looked at how this type of therapy is moving beyond the visual arts to incorporate dance, music and other forms to promote healing around the world.
You can see this and other recent pieces I've written at http://glenncook.virb.com/freelance.
Muhammad Ali at Ben's Chili Bowl — Washington, D.C., July 2017
Dragon in the sky — Houston, June 2017
A freelance story I wrote on the “13 Reasons Why” phenomenon and the effect it is having on school districts is featured in the current issue of American School Board Journal. The story looks at how school districts were caught off guard by the Netflix show about the death by suicide of a teenage girl and the tapes she leaves behind, as well as the potential legal and ethical ramifications for school districts.
You can find the story at http://glenncook.virb.com/freelance.
Foggy morning — Lorton, Va., September 2015
Ten years ago today, I wasn't there. I'd left Texas City the day before and returned to Virginia, hours after my father waved goodbye to us and slipped into a coma.
Losing my dad, without question, was one of the most difficult things I've gone through in this life. I viscerally remember the multiple flights back and forth from Virginia to Houston after his final diagnosis. Falling behind at work, I remember working on a piece for a magazine while staying with him one weekend in the hospital. I remember the nights he was in such pain, as I simultaneously wished for it to end while selfishly hoping he wouldn't leave us.
I didn't make promises to higher powers about changing my life forever if he could be spared. I walked around the hospital after that final goodbye, playing Alejandro Escovedo's "The End" on my iPod as loud as I could bear. I started working on a slideshow of dad and his grandchildren that I would show at his funeral. And I started thinking about the future, not knowing what it would hold.
Often I've said I became a better father when my dad died, having recognized belatedly that life is finite. I started paying more attention to family instead of career, and began to chase after that elusive creative muse. What I learned most is that life is not about the things you have. It's about what you experience with those you love.
I love you, Dad.
In 1967, at the height of unrest in the U.S. over Vietnam and social/racial issues, as many as 100,000 people swarmed San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in the hopes of “creating a new social paradigm.” Today, the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love is being celebrated in a remarkable exhibition at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park.
Titled “The Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll,” the exhibit features posters, photos, interactive music, light shows, costumes and textiles that tell the story of a summer in which artists, activists, writers, and musicians converged on the Bay Area neighborhood.
The de Young exhibit, while celebrating the hippie culture and flower power, does not gloss over the problems that ended the Summer of Love almost as quickly as it began. Haight-Ashbury was not equipped to handle the crush of people, and the neighborhood rapidly deteriorated due to overcrowding, homelessness, crime and drug use.
However, the legacy of the Summer of Love lives on to this day. As the museum says in a digital exploration of the exhibit, “The social developments in San Francisco and the Bay Area in the 1960s as epitomized by the Summer of Love catalyzed a set of ideas that would eventually lead to new norms: the birth of the natural food industry, concern for the environment, sexual liberation, and challenges to the nuclear family. The era’s political and social activism had a significant impact on the course of American history. The counterculture touched every facet of American culture, offering alternatives to the mainstream that still flourish today.
It is a fascinating exhibit, well worth your time if you can make it to San Francisco between now and Aug. 20. These photos attempt to capture what I saw during an afternoon walk through.