Editor's note: This month only – get $6 off my ebooks The Magic of Black & White, The Magic of Black & White: 50 Assignments and The Black & White Landscape using the code bw6 at checkout. Click the links for details. Thanks for reading, Andrew.
Some of you will already be familiar with the portrait photography of Eduardo Izq. His style is very natural: he uses natural light, and portrays his models without make-up and often without fashionable clothing. It’s the opposite of taking portraits of people to make them look pretty the conventional way, with make-up and styling. But it works, and on a much deeper level, as he captures both beauty and character in his portraits.
Many of Eduardo’s recent portraits feature ballerinas. The appeal of photographing dancers is clear when you see the images, they have an elegance, beauty and grace that is nearly impossible for someone without training to replicate. I thought it would be interesting go deeper into this topic and ask Eduardo a few questions about his portraits of ballerinas:
How did you get started taking photos of ballerinas?
At the time I was starting to take photography seriously a few years ago, I was also beginning to attend the ballet performances at Indiana University (IU). It was immediately obvious to me that ballerinas would make great subjects. My first intuition was to shoot portraits of them, which is what I had been working on with models until then. The more I learnt about ballet, and the more I saw how they expressed themselves, the more I wanted to capture different aspects of their beauty.
A big part of this was being able to capture the lines of their full body, which was impossible to do in the indoor spaces where I had been doing portraits. So in some ways it was getting to know the ballerinas themselves who motivated me to find a way to shoot them in different ways, including most recently outdoors. I’m still brainstorming and exploring how to capture their elegance.
How do you choose your locations? Is there anything specific that you’re looking for?
The ballerina photos have almost all been done on the IU campus. I’m a researcher at IU, and I live nearby. So I tend to walk around campus often. The architecture is very unique — all made of limestone that was collected from nearby. It has a very elegant and minimalistic feel to it, and it’s complemented very well by the abundant trees.
I often take a different path on my walks to and from work, and I try to imagine in general what looks good and what doesn’t. I’ll also walk into the buildings and browse around. My parents are academics, so I grew up in campuses, and whenever we’d travel, we’d visit the different campuses. So walking around the buildings makes me reminisce, and brings me a certain joy.
I had been shooting portraits of dancers indoors for a bit. And also in parallel thinking about ways to capture the architecture of the campus in a unique, elegant way. It was only after a while, probably in one of those walks, when it clicked: portraying the ballerinas of IU on their own campus, mixing their lines with the lines of the places they inhabit daily.
Why are you attracted to ballerinas as a subject? How are they different from your other models?
I have shot just about equal parts dancers, models, and random others. There are qualities that are specific to each group that I absolutely love. Regardless of that initial distinction, however, what is common to all of the girls I shoot is that I find them utterly beautiful.
There are a number of things I love about working with ballerinas specifically:
1. Their form. Each activity a person engages in habitually tunes their body in a very specific way. I find ballerinas’ bodies to be tuned in one of the most humanly beautiful ways: an unequalled blend of strength and delicacy, perfectly balanced.
2. The way they move. Ballerinas are trained to express themselves with movements – this is obvious enough. Nothing is less convincing than statically posed photographs. Any attempt at studying expressions of beauty have to be attempted through movement.
3. Ballerinas are performers. They have a keen eye not just on what they are doing with their body, but how it looks to the audience that is in front of them. Their acute sense of perspective is a quality that took me some time to recognise, but that is so obviously key to photography.
4. They are overly critical. Ballerinas always think they can do better. They push themselves hard. They know they can get a better shot. When we are going through photos, they are the first to point out the flaws. This aligns well with me – they are searching for the one photo out of hundreds that shows the perfection that is in their heads. They never settle for less than it.
5. They are incredibly friendly and down to earth. Perhaps it’s just the group I know here in Bloomington. But the ballerinas I’ve met are people I would easily be good friends with. This is a crucial point for me, that I can see may not be the same for other photographers. I enjoy connecting with people. For me one of the most beautiful outcomes of a shoot is to end up with a new friend, someone I can not only collaborate with artistically, but also grab a cup of coffee and have a laugh.
6. They are natural. It’s not trivial to find the subset of people I think are naturally beautiful who are also willing to be photographed. More often, the people who want to be photographed have a certain look that can be somewhat artificial. With ballerinas, I have the opportunity to shoot people who have no model aspirations, and are therefore beautifully ordinary, untainted by the conventional model look. The last point is rather subtle, but it is one of the main reasons I like working with them. There are many other reasons why I love working with ballerinas, but these are some of the ones that come to mind first.
Here are some more of Eduardo’s portraits of ballerinas:
Thanks for reading. You can get more great articles and tips about photography in my popular Mastering Photography email newsletter. Join today and I’ll send you 47 PhotoTips cards and my ebook Introducing Lightroom Classic . Over 30,000 photographers subscribe. Enter your email now and join us.