New Orleans resident and professional photographer Kris Davidson set out to capture the renaissance of New Orleans for Traveler magazine. Here, she shares how she made an ethereal picture of a dance troupe set in an old church.
When the Marigny Opera Ballet made their new home a glorious old church in a lush New Orleans garden—beautiful and exquisitely crumbly—I knew I had to photograph the site. I wanted to capture two things simultaneously: the beauty of the old church and the grace the dancers infused into the space. Ordinarily, the ballet company performances take place in the evening, lit by stage lights, but I wanted to have natural daylight coming through the windows in order to show the textured walls. I called them up and invited myself to a practice.
It turned out to be very fortuitous timing. When photographing performances, going behind the scenes whenever possible is always a good idea. Not having the tension of a performance at hand often allows the story to come alive in a different, more organic manner. In this image the dancers are practicing in the main area of the church, where patrons normally would sit—the opportunity to capture both the beauty of the church interior and the dancers in motion had presented itself.
With the overcast sky acting like a giant softbox, a gentle light flooded the church. It was an ideal light to complement the graceful movements of the dancers. Lying on the floor, I found a composition that included repeated windows and set the camera for a slight overexposure, allowing the window light details to slip into a glowing white while also ensuring that the faces of the dancers would be visible.
With the exposure set, I concentrated on the dancers, anticipating the emotional arcs of the movements. Before long, I was caught up in the performance as it unfolded, just responding intuitively as they moved in the space. This moment in which the dancer has his arms raised, head tilted up, and eyes closed matches the mood of the church atmosphere, but I didn’t know I had the frame until later on, while sitting in front of the computer and editing.
Photo Tips: When shooting a performance, going behind the scenes can allow for unexpected moments. Dancers move quickly, so finding the larger composition and setting the exposure ahead of time allows you to concentrate fully on the cadence of the motion. Shooting in burst mode with a fast card is best for capturing the climactic points of dance; the goal is to shoot through the motion as it happens and edit later.
Photographed with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens. Camera settings: 1/200; f/2.8; ISO1250.
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Follow Kris Davidson on Instagram at @hellokrisdavidson.