In this course, follow along with photographer Joe McNally as he is on location for an assignment to photograph a belly dancer. In this video, Joe discusses how he worked with the dancer to find what elements of her art form worked best for the photo shoot, as well as how he gained inspiration from her.
- Yeah, the dancer, she had an instantaneous relationship to the place. Dancers always are concerned not so much about what's in the background. They're concerned about the floor, the surface they're dancing on, especially ballet people, because it becomes critical for them if they're going to move effectively. With her, not quite as much because I didn't ask her to leap about and move. That's not really her art form. She did a version of her belly dance basically rooted in one place. But it was a familiar environment. It also helped us establish our credentials too.
We didn't say, "Well, can you come to the loading dock?" We got a dance studio. She's a dancer; we got her a dance studio. She had a place to change and stage her outfits and do her makeup and all of that. It is part of the package you create for a comfort level of your subject. How did you happen on the art form of belly dancing? - So I've been dancing tap and jazz when I was a kid and modern through college, and then my physical therapist told me that I needed to stop running and find something else for my knees, because a lot of my cartilage was gone. (laughs) So I said, "Oh, dance.
"I've missed dance. "I haven't done it in awhile." I hadn't danced in about six years. And I found this book called Belly Dance for Fun and Fitness at the library and read it. I was like, "Ooh, this sounds fun." - [Joe] What's your favorite outfit? What color do you think you look best in? - My personal style is more Egyptian, but I brought the Turkish costume because I know that that skirt would move really well. - Sure. - Because it's chiffon. It's got two splits in it. It'll really flare. And the others, the Egyptian style costumes, won't flare as much when you're moving. They just have the beads on them. - Kind of partial to the blue. - Okay.
- It's got a real good saturation level to it. It also I think would go well with that veil. That might work with it. The complementary color, the orange, not so much. But let's stay with the blue for now. Let's see what happens with that. - Okay. - And we'll go from there. - Okay. - I knew she was a nice person and she wasn't a difficult person at that point. She had various colors of outfits. She tried to describe the style of belly dance, 'cause obviously with all these kinds of art forms, there's "Oh, I do this" or "No, I do," "Oh, that's a northern style." There's all these kinds of iterations that, being a non-belly dancer (laughs) aficionado, I had no idea.
So she described a few of them over the phone to me, and that was kind of where I started to think about the idea of motion. A big part of the art of belly dance is the movement of the hips, obviously. And these dancers are amazing. They really can swing to a certain beat, et cetera. And you want to try to emphasize that. It's part of the beauty of it. So that's when I started thinking about the bicycle lights. I always insist, in these kinds of instances especially, I knew we would have a multi-gender crew. You don't want to just walk in there as a bunch of guys with a female belly dancer all day long, so we had women on the set as well.
It's just a comfort level thing. It's part of being professional. She had her own space. She needs privacy. She's going to do makeup. She's going to be getting in and out of outfits. You don't want somebody doing that on the set, generally speaking. You have to create a separation. Also gave her someplace to go, and I could tell her to go, because my technical stuff was taking a fair amount of time at first. I was messing around with stuff, messing around with stuff. So she could get off the set and not be concerned about the tedium of that.
That's my problem. Go to your room, have a coffee, do some emails, relax, get off the set. Therefore, she knows she's got her own place, and that, just an important thing to offer your subject. As with happens with dancers, they have a whole array of moves, but there's actually just a limited number of moves that actually work for the camera. So I took a look at some of her dance patterns, and she showed me an array of moves, and then I started to drill down through that and tried to edit it so that essentially by the end of the shoot, she was sort of repeating one move that was working out pretty well for the camera.
At the same time, I had her repeat it quite a number of times, because, again, the component of motion and fabric in air, there's no certainty to the way that's going to look. You have to shoot a bunch of frames to get a couple that you really like, and I was lucky at the end of the day, I had a couple that were kind of pretty.
- Researching the subject
- Conducting a phone interview
- Essential pieces of gear for a dance shoot
- Working with a photo assistant
- Setting up and changing a shot
- Visualizing the first shot
- Creating a lighting setup that complements your subject
- Modifying the environment
- Dealing with on-set challenges
- Attaching lights to a subject