Now our Move Dance Isla Collection is released, we wanted to share an insight with you into shooting the collection with Bethany Kingsley-Garner, Principal Ballerina at Scottish Ballet. We were extremely lucky to be able to work with both Bethany, the Scottish Ballet and photographer Drew Forsyth.
Drew has put together an overview of the day, how he goes about preparing for a shoot, what he does during a shoot and the process of the aftermath of the shoot! It’s a real insight into the behind the scenes world of a photographer!
And now… over to Drew!
Today I’m so pleased to be able to share the process behind the Move Dance campaign shoot with Principal Ballerina Bethany Kingsley Garner, of Scottish Ballet. I’m going to take you through the three main parts of the process: Pre Production, the Shoot Day, and the Post Production and editing.
Thanks to Move Dance for fantastic opportunity to work on this and thanks also go to my team on the day, as well as Scottish Ballet.
So, let’s begin!
A high profile campaign like this means a lot of pre-production. Shooting this kind of campaign is typically quite high pressure, as you tend to only have a limited amount of time with the talent, and you have a lot of shots to get through!
A selection of images we used as inspiration for the shoot.
The concept behind the shoot was ‘A Day in the Life’, showing Bethany going about her daily business as a professional ballerina. For this, we’d be shooting on location at Tramway, just outside Glasgow City Centre, where Scottish Ballet is based.
The main focus would be on the rehearsal-style images, to be shot in the main studio, with other supplementary images to be shot around and outside the main building.
As I mentioned above, when you’re working with VIPs time is your most precious commodity, so as well as factoring in shoot time another thing to take into consideration is that you’ll be bouncing around a large building with the team and all the gear, so you’ll lose time in between each setup. Suddenly, a look that normally takes 15 minutes now takes 45.
Personally, I hate over-running on set, however, sometimes it can’t be avoided, so I always front load the most important images at the start of the day (where possible!). For that reason, we planned to shoot in the morning in the main studio in order to get strong, clean images of each leotard. We’d shoot one by one in six different areas of the studio, so regardless of if it all went terribly wrong in the afternoon, we’d have shot everything essential by lunchtime. The idea was to then do some more lifestyle images in the afternoon - the same outfits, but outside the building, in the gym, and so on.
We arrived the night before (myself and my assistant Madeleine) in order to scope out the building, and figure out a bit of a route! We were given a tour of the building and as part of that we were shown the Pointe Shoe room - an area we hadn’t even considered in the prep! Once I saw that room, I knew I had to shoot here, so we factored that into the plan.
In terms of lighting, we wanted the shots to look bright and airy, however, this might not always be possible, so in order to replicate that through the building, I opted for a combination of Profoto B1 and B10s. As we’d be both inside and outside, in unfamiliar surroundings, I knew we’d need to be mobile. That’s where the Profoto lights come into their own - they’re battery-powered, which means I can put them basically anywhere. That means not having to worry about PAT Testing or where the nearest plug socket is, which can be an absolute lifesaver!
8am call time the next morning at the Studios, and when we arrived, we got Bethany straight into makeup. Whilst she was being prepped, Mads and I then set up the equipment and pre-lit the first look.
Once Bethany was out of makeup, I then briefed everyone on the layout of the day, the creative concept, and the key themes of the images. When you’re working with lots of people on set it’s so important to brief everyone at the start of the day, that way everyone knows what you’re working towards, and why the decisions you’re making are being made.
Assistant Mads testing the lights before Bethany arrives on set.
Conceptually, we were telling the story of Bethany’s day, but how did we want the images to feel? For me, I wanted Bethany to look strong, powerful, and confident. Crucially though, I wanted to make sure we struck the balance between ‘focused’ and ‘happy’, as happiness in a big part of Move Dance’s brand. So often in Ballet Photography, dancers are depicted as very serious (which is often the case!), however, they’re not like that 100% of the time!! Plenty of times I’ve been working with dancers and had to tell them to stop laughing for the shots I’ve wanted, so we wanted to make sure we captured some of those kinds of moments too.
In terms of posing, I had some ideas of what I’d like to see, starting with an initial warm up at the bar.
One thing you have to get used to when shooting dance, is to make sure you push the dancers you’re working with. Working with such a high profile ballerina can be intimidating, but dancers thrive on direction, and if you’re a wallflower and you allow your nerves to overcome you, you might not get the shots you need. As a photographer, it’s so important to be laser-focused on what you want from the shoot, and you have to be confident enough to look your subject in the eye and say, “Okay, let’s see that again with a bit more energy!”.
As well, when you’re shooting a campaign like this, the most important thing BY FAR is making sure that the shots are absolutely technically perfect. Sometimes when I’m on set, my assistants or makeup artist will look at the laptop and say ‘that’s great!’, however, if the shot isn’t correct from a choreography / pose perspective (eg. the talent isn’t turned out enough), then the shot won’t make it past the artistic director of the company, or the dancer themselves. That’s the key with ballet photography - it doesn’t matter how good the photograph is, if the pose is incorrect, forget it.
After lunch, it was a case of shooting the lifestyle images, including timing the outdoors shots in-between the rain!!
The final setup we ended up doing was Beth relaxing, shot from above. Here’s me demonstrating.
8 hours, and 1200 shots later, we were done. PHEW.
So, what happens now?
Well with any large project, there are often plenty of people who need to have input, and this was no different. In terms of whittling down the images, you have to take into consideration the client, the talent, the company, the outfit designer, and yes, even the photographer gets a say!
Number of images shot: 1256
Final number of images selected: 33
Once the whittling down process was complete, then we’re onto the next step: the grading process. When I’m grading images, there’s a lot of considerations - what the Move Dance want, what looks good, what conceptually fits in with the story you’re telling. Sure, they’re designed to showcase the leotards, but I also wanted them to showcase Bethany, and show her in a timeless and classic way.
For that reason, I went for quite a clean, bright grade, but with a little low-contrast Film Emulation twist. For me, dance shot on film does have a timeless quality to it, and that’s why I wanted to add that kind of vibe to the images.
After the grade comes touch ups. In this instance, Move Dance wanted to do little touch ups, which includes things like getting rid of tape on the floor, airbrushing out stray hairs, that kind of thing.
One thing that was a little out of the ordinary too, was that we opted to do a composite. Now normally, I prefer to shoot these kinds of things in camera, however, for this it wasn’t quite possible! Here’s the before:
And here’s afterwards - additional retouching by Gary Woods.
And after all that, the images are delivered to Move Dance.
What can I say, it was an absolute pleasure to work on this project! From working with such a talented and consulate professional in Beth, to working with an amazing team behind the camera, it was a delight helping to shape this campaign. You can follow me on Instagram and Twitter, and check out my site, drewforsyth.com
My final thanks go to:
- Bethany Kingsley Garner - Dancer
- Madeleine Penfold - Assistance
- Jenny Clayton - Hair & Makeup
- Tony, Chris, and the team at Scottish Ballet
- Lucy & all the team at Move Dance
- Debbie McGregor for behind the scenes images and video
- Gary Wood for additional retouching