Creative Photography and Dancers, How to Make a Sense of Atmosphere


Craig Sillitoe has been grilled before. His first grilling, Photographing the Shrine of Remembrance contains a short profile. You can vote to grill more of his images at About Photogrill.

PHOTGRILL: Why did you make this photo?

PHOTOGRAPHER: Great photos tell a story, which is one of the advantages of working for a newspaper, there are always stories to tell. This was a story about two dance troupes coming together to create a performance based on the meeting of forest and sea. I’d be working with two dancers, one from each troupe. We didn’t have a lot of time, so the photograph was to be made close by at Melbourne’s botanical gardens. There are huge old Elm trees like this one with an amazing trunk, but there was no water close to it, what to do? I’d have to take a broader interpretation.

PHOTGRILL: So how did the idea come about?

PHOTOGRAPHER: Photography doesn’t need to provide a literal interpretation of a story. What I was looking to do was to get into the feel of it, what kind of atmosphere was it? I already had two dancers in the botanical gardens, so some questions were answered for me. But as the photographer it was up to me to decide many other things. Where would the dancers pose, how would they pose, what background, what lighting, natural or artificial light, how wide would the picture be, and so on? Well it turns out the answer to these questions is secondary to one other far more important question. What is the atmosphere I’m trying to create?

When I have a good a sense of what the atmosphere should be like, and I hold that sense in mind, images come to me. Often lots of images, which is just as well, because some of them might be a tad difficult in the circumstances. Like the idea to pose the dancers waist deep in a stream running through the trees. Once I had an image in my mind that I could create with the camera, the answers to the questions about what to do, became more obvious.

PHOTGRILL: What was your thought process like?

PHOTOGRAPHER: To get a sense of the atmosphere in mind I find it’s helpful to be an internet blogger. Why? Because for me it’s all about ‘key words’. I have to compress the story which is made up of many words, into just a few key words. Once I have those key words in mind I want them to blend in my imagination, to form that unique atmosphere or feeling, and then the images start to flow. In this case my key words were dancers, forest and water. And as I observed the atmosphere that those three words create, it reminded me of being taught to dance in school by pretending to be a tree swaying in the breeze. Dancers were strange creatures to me then, who have an affinity with trees.

When I imagined water and trees I remembered wandering through a rain-forest and coming across a little stream. The forest all around was dark in the shade of the canopy. Except for one little patch at the base of a large tree, where the sunlight had bounced from the shimmering surface of the stream and lit up a little ‘family’ of mushrooms. So my plan was to recreate that scene of sunlight light bouncing of the glistening surface of a stream & lighting up the ‘strange creatures’ at the base of the tree trunk.

PHOTOGRILL: How did you do that?

PHOTOGRAPHER: Recreating the sunlight bouncing from the stream was fairly easy. I have a fold-out type reflector, it has a silver cover which was perfect for this effect. However the tree was so large, and the sunlight so far away from the trunk, that the reflector could not make light carry the distance. So instead I leaned the reflector up on my camera bag, not far in front of the base of the tree. I would fire my little canon speedlight into the reflector. I didn’t have a lighting stand with me, but there was a person enjoying lunch in the gardens who was curious about our photo-shoot, she made a great lighting stand.

Posing the dancers was the easy part, I showed them a test frame and asked what sort of a pose they think would be suitable for the image. I think they sensed the possibility of a nice picture so they were happy to work at it. Professional dancers have no problems strinking a pose. I just prompted them occasionally so they knew I was still there. After a few minutes we had our shot. The photograph was taken on a Canon EOS1d MkIV with a 16-35mm lens.

Vote to grill more of Craig Sillitoe’s images at Portfolio
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11 Responses to “Creative Photography and Dancers, How to Make a Sense of Atmosphere”

  1. Shawn Brown says:

    @photogrill great photo! Love the bounced light effect..been experimenting with off camera flash and been enjoying it.will post pics soon. via twitter

  2. Anthony Peterson says:

    awesome post. Great picture. Love it.
    via twitter

  3. Aurora says:

    @photogrill – Amazing! There are no words! I love this photo
    via twitter

  4. Raed Shomali says:

    @photogrill Awesome
    via twitter

  5. What a great photo! What great creativity. Thank you for sharing all this. When I was a newspaper photographer, I never got this creative (nor for that matter, was this type of creativity wanted). I applaud you for the work you are doing as well as for sharing your thoughts with us. Brad

  6. Kamlesh says:

    Wow. This is a wonderful article. I can feel your vision and creativity. Good work. Happy clicking!

  7. csillitoe says:


  8. Thanks for a great article. I’ll put your advic into practice.

  9. csillitoe says:

    Thanks, I’m hoping it becomes a way to share advanced photography for beginners and experts.

  10. I believe this blog post is one of the most informative thing not only for the technique learner but also for necessary for all stage people.

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