Finding the time and energy for ballet photography, the #myballerina project, was the best decision I ever made.
As a professional Tokyo photographer, I always wanted a unique photography project, even if its uniqueness was only for me. Thus, ever since I moved to Japan, I wanted to start a project that wasn’t subject to a paid job. I wanted to benefit from the freedom of following my ideas and not only to perform a task meant to make ends meet.
Inspiration for ballet photography
The inspiration for this photography project is from a few years back. Then, I discovered through my passion a photographer who, at the time, was living in Tokyo, Japan.
The photographer is known as Akira Enzeru, and he was shooting amazing portraits of ballerina dancers for a project called “Ballerinas Everywhere.” He is responsible for building and growing a desire inside me to do ballet photography; he is such a fragile and gentle dancer, yet so powerful and inspiring at the same time. At the time, I was living in Seoul, South Korea, and little did I know I would get my turn to live in Japan, too, a few years later. More importantly, to have my very first shoot with ballerina dancers somewhere in Yokohama. Impressive how life goes around and brings people closer to their dreams and goals.
Living in Japan gave me a chance to meet new people and learn a little about them. That is how I first met Ambre and her boyfriend for a photoshoot I did for them as a couple at Roppongi Hills in Tokyo. Fast forward a few months later, in the spring of 2020th, because I knew Ambre was a dancer, I contacted her to ask about ballerinas and if she knew someone through her dancing club who would like to collaborate to bring my ballet photography project to life.
This is how I got to know her story about dancing passion and how far back it has been since she was a very young child. After explaining my ideas (not very precisely what I could say), she was already saying yes to my project. More than that, she also introduced me to her friend Sayako who is also a fantastic ballet dancer.
On a beautiful sunny day in March 2020th, we met in the small Ushikubo Park in Yokohama, where the photoshoot took place. Well, I started to shoot; Ambre and Sayako started to pose in front of my camera so I could create stunning ballet photography images. Retrospectively thinking now, to my shame, I have never seen before live dancing ballerinas, not in a single ballet show. That’s why I was extremely impressed with Ambre and Sayako’s poses and felt so compelled to take great photos to reward their work, which spans years of intense practice and sustained training.
The photo shoot went on perfectly, with no incidents or injuries to any of the dancers. After a few test shots, the first in line for dancing portraits was Ambre. She did beautiful poses in her first outfit, which beautifully complemented her poses. I’ll be honest; I didn’t know what to expect, as we planned to meet and shoot and see what happens. And what happened was amazing.
I tried my best to make amazing portraits of both Ambre and Sayako. I photographed them in turns, so they would have time for breaks and recovery time to avoid injuries.
The time was flying by very fast, and both Sayako and Ambre had changed their outfits for more ballet poses and chances for me to capture the perfect moments. I was impressed, pose after pose, with the abilities, flexibility, and strength they both had. I guess all these poses could serve as inspiration for any ballet dancers who are just starting. But remember, try to be safe. I did my best to use nature and include it in my photos as much as possible. After all, the attributes to describe ballet dancing could very well be used to describe nature.
In comparison with other art forms like photography, painting, sculpture, and dancing, it is one of the most ephemeral arts. It only lasts for as long as the dancer dances. That’s why I have so much respect for the people putting in the effort, energy, and passion for learning and performing any form of dancing. Ballet dancing, for me, is all about what it transmits and how it makes me feel while watching it.
As a photographer, all I wanted is to be able to incorporate in my ballet photography what I could see through my lenses. I know I am subjective, and I always see what I want, but Ambre and Sayako managed superbly to transmit me finesse, grace, and at the same time, strength. I firmly believe that one must have all these characteristics deep inside his heart; otherwise, it would merely be a show-off of ballet poses and moves learned robotically, which wouldn’t transmit anything to the viewer. Ballet dance photography starts to grow roots deep inside my soul.
For a while, I was in trouble finding the direction I would’ve wanted to go with the editing of the ballet photography images from this session. After all, this is a personal project for me as a photographer, and I could have gone anyway I wanted to. Green hues aren’t the easiest ones to edit, at least for me, nevertheless. I have edited all the photos up to a stage in Adobe Lightroom, followed by small tweaks in Adobe Photoshop, which helped the overall look of the images.
The most important thing is that I have discovered which way I want to go with this fantastic ballet photography project, and I already have many ideas I want to transform into great ballerina portraits. Unfortunately, the timing isn’t quite right when social distancing is required to maintain the health of all of us. Of course, this is only the start of my first personal project as a photographer. I’m already looking forward to expanding it and giving it a better shape. Until then, I have a lot of things to learn and discover.
I wanted to include in this article a little bit of the story of these incredible dancers and feature some amazing ballet photography images. It’s a blessing to have worked with them to make all these beautiful pictures of dancing ballerinas.
Ambre is a French studying in Japan, living together with her boyfriend, Romain.
Sayako, on the other hand, is Japanese, a student in love with the French language, of which she is a fluent speaker, an avid dancer, and a dedicated person in everything she does. If you wonder how we did communicate, don’t worry, she speaks good English too. 😉
Life-long ballet dancing story
I’ll let you here to read the inspiring lifelong dancing story Ambre had written for me:
I basically danced all my life, since I am 5 years old, I never stopped dancing for more than two months (summer holidays haha). I did ballet for 14 years at my local conservatory, not at a high level because it was just for fun, but I never got tired of it. Until 12 years old, we danced exclusively in demi-pointe, the shoes I was wearing for the photoshoot. These are flat shoes that we use to warm up during training sessions.
After 12 years old, I began to use pointe shoes, which are the consolidated ballerina shoes made to stand on the tip of the toes. I remember it was super hard at first because it was hurting a lot, then I got used to it and found my own custom ways to avoid the pain! In my conservatory, we didn’t practice just pointe shoes; we were practicing half the time with demi-pointe to practice on pure ballet technique to be able to do it once on pointe.
At 20 years old, I got accepted to my engineering school, which was not in the same city in France so I had to stop my ballet class (which I did all my life, with the same teacher and the same people), but I was not done with dance. I wanted to explore more types of dances because I never tried anything else apart from ballet. So I joined several dance clubs in my french school. I tried rock (which I did almost exclusively to be with Romain, but that’s another story), I joined the freestyle dance club and the cheerleading club.
The freestyle dance club was meant to organize a competition every year show between schools, so it was super exciting to see what other students could do. I eventually became a cheerleading captain because it was a lot of fun, and I could choose the songs, haha.
Then on September 2018th, I had to leave France to begin my double degree in Japan. I still wanted to dance somehow, but I didn’t know quite well the environment here, and the only dance club in my University that was welcoming foreigners was the Japanese traditional dance club (日本舞踊) that I did for a few months.
It was a pleasant experience to dance in kimono in a tatami room! The students there were speaking quite good English, so it was so cool. It had many similarities with ballet, so I was quite good at it (the facial expression, the choreography telling a story, the precision in the position, and techniques). Still, the music style was not so much my cup of tea (Japanese traditional music), so I wanted to join another dance club.
I waited until next April with the beginning of the new school year to officially join the club. I have been part of the club for a year now! And the last November (2019th) I was able to perform on the big stage of the school festival with them, as the only foreigner of the club, haha, it is not always easy for me because their level is way above mine. I have learned so much, and I am very proud to have survived until now!
So basically, it is the dance that united Sayako and I (and French luckily)!
Starting ballet to have fun, Sayako says
I started doing ballet when I was three years old. That was an activity meant to have fun, so it was not strict. When I was 15 years old, I met a new ballet teacher. She taught me very well, so I thought it was amazing. All of a sudden, I fell in love with ballet (before, of course, I didn’t hate it, but something was missing, and I haven’t liked it so much, I didn’t feel it).
Except for ballet, I didn’t do other dances before University. That’s why I wanted to do something new. Luckily I saw a dance performance at the university club. I signed up for the club, and I started doing Jazz dance.
I had been in the club until December, but I left it because I was in the third year, and the rules are that only students until the third year can be in the club. After I have left the club, I began dancing ballet again. Unfortunately, the ballet teacher leaves my ballet school.
Therefore, I allowed myself a break from dancing because I needed to reset my body. Long hard training hours in the dancing studio had led to injuries which now are healing. At the moment, I don’t dance, but I do muscle-building looking forward to the one day I will restart dancing.
If this isn’t proof of passion for ballet dancing, then nothing else would. I have been saying this before: I have a subconscious drive to shoot people who are passionate about something. Somehow I feel so connected with passionate people that it’s even hard to describe in words. I do know that I feel overly inspired to pursue my passion, which is being a photographer.
Technical details for those who are interested in knowing
I will add the full list for those technically oriented people who want to know about the gear I was using to make the photo session possible. It’s a given that I wasn’t using every single bit of equipment. As many photographers usually do, I make no exception in carrying around more things than I will need to use. Over the years, my photo backpack had turned into a suitcase that is easier to carry around, and it doesn’t hurt my back.
It includes a full-frame DSLR, Nikon D750, and Nikon prime lenses with focal lengths of 20mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm, all with a maximum aperture f/1.8. Because I’m a big fan of using flash photography outdoors, I brought along some flashes, light stands, and light modifiers to help me obtain the desired result. I am currently using the Godox AD200, 2x Godox TT685N, and Nikon SB700, all used remotely and controlled by the Godox trigger X1T-N. I like these flashes, especially for the convenience of using HSS, which stands for high-speed sync.
Thank you for your time spent reading my thoughts about my first personal photography project. The stars have aligned in such a way that only after living on the outskirts of the Tokyo Metropolitan Area I managed to start a photography project. This photo project has been growing in my heart for a long time now. Enjoy the entire gallery down below, and please let me know your thoughts; I would be delighted to read them.
Many thanks to the brave ballerinas who have helped me start my photography project! Scroll down to see the gallery of all the photographs.