Tim Cross was responsible for most of commissioned photography during IDFB 2012, covering Home, Family Weekend and The Impending Storm. He also took some of the most iconic photographs of the festival during Wings of Desire, and in the article below, Tim explains how he approached the event, and the techniques he used to take three of his favourite images from the show.
As a Dance and Theatre Photographer I was delighted when I was approached to cover IDFB 2012. Having had the opportunity to provide some imagery during the 2010 Festival, I kept the 2012 dates clear hoping that I would be invited to shoot for IDFB again.
I knew that the breadth of performers, companies and styles that the festival attracts would be an impressive line-up and prove for some great imagery, and luckily I got the call and was given a run-down of the many events that were happening in and around Birmingham.
A regular freelance contract for me usually involves only one function, a show/a gathering/a photoshoot (with a day shoot /night edit), so to have a diary full of dates to look forward to was immensely exciting.
As an ex-dancer there is no doubt that this previous career helps me today to anticipate movement and to make immediate aesthetic decisions. A lot of what I shoot demands that the style and technique are correct and in-keeping with the dance form that I am depicting.
I tend to believe that years of performing dance to music and watching dancers move to music, has sharpened my reactions and I am probably now relying on some form of muscle-memory to anticipate and judge timings, but as a photographer I would be a fool not to acknowledge the part that luck plays!
From my perspective as a photographer, one of the most interesting parts of the festival was the outdoor performances of Wings of Desire. Set in the heart of Birmingham in Victoria Square, complete with a huge stage, rooftop angels, stunt performers, dancers, actors and architectural projection mapping, it promised to be quite a job to shoot.
To cover something of this complexity in one performance was always going to be difficult, and fortunately I had the luxury of picking two nights out of the four to cover the event.
With such an important event, a bit of forward planning never goes amiss so a recce of the technical rehearsal got my eye in and gave me a chance to plan ahead. I didn’t take any kit (giving my back a rest!) but just noted the sequence of the pieces, general distances, sight lines and rough light levels.
Most of the reportage work I shoot is of fast-moving dancing, invariably in low ambient light, so the equipment that I rely on excels in low light levels. Unfortunately this also means heavy glass and full-frame bodies, which, when combined, very quickly turn into weighty dumbbells!
It is particulary important to gauge the amount of kit required accurately, as an unused lens or three, carried all evening isn’t much fun. Covering for equipment failure should always be high on a professional photographer’s list – a Plan B – but I usually find less kit equals more “keepers”.
I quickly decided that I needed to split the shoot nights into two distinct categories:
First night: a static fixed point, to mimic the audience’s viewpoint and experience, in which I could cover the stage work, the light projection mapping and incidentals.
Second night: a fully mobile style to give more interesting viewpoints, capture individual performances and a chance to zoom with the feet!
Below are a few of my favourite images from Wings of Desire:
2Faced Dance Company
Nikon D3s & 70-200mm
(and the paparazzi’s favourite weapon: a 3-step ladder!)
A high energy and fast moving piece. The separation of the dancers’ bodies from the audience makes for a striking image. It was a lucky shot, more instinctive than planned as I didn’t know the choreography at the time. The speed on the camera was dangerously low for such a fast movement, but all dancers had hit their maximum altitudes, meaning they had effectively slowed enough to get a reasonably sharp capture. Knowing that the crowd would fill up the square to watch the show, I had to choose my shooting position between ‘up close and low’, or ‘far back and high’, as moving between the two would prove difficult and, more importantly, disruptive. Shooting close would guarantee some great individual portraits, but little else so the decision was easy.
Architectural Projection Mapping on Town Hall by seeper
Nikon D3s & 24-70mm
A difficult exposure to catch facial expressions and light projections. High ISO was no problem for the Nikon and noise levels were acceptable. The trick was to nail the first capture before I got spotted, otherwise the moment would be gone. Even with all settings on silent, at this distance I knew I would only get the one chance. Some post-processing of the image was required to correct the colour-shift, balance exposure left to right and dampen the noise further but nothing major. Use of flash would have made my life easier, but I doubt the audience enjoying the projection mapping would have appreciated it.
Circa – Corde Lisse
Nikon D3s & 70-200mm & TC14 (effectively 280mm)
Having shot Circa on the first night I was eager to get some more imagery of this amazing company and talented members at closer range. I used a teleconverter with a 70-200mm to give a focal length of 280mm, to get closer without being under Emma, and shot handheld. It was such a stunning and exciting piece of theatre that there were many great images from it, but every now and then Emma appeared to be defying the laws of physics. I especially like this image as the apparent grip (or lack of) makes for a particularly precarious position.
Tim Cross is an Dance and Theatre Photographer who specialises in all forms of dance imagery, as well as reportage/documentary, full studio and portraiture styles. Tim is a former First Soloist with Birmingham Royal Ballet.