“PoppySeed and Emanuel #16” by E. E. McCollum

I always try to arrive at the studio early. In part, I want time to set up the lights, arrange the v-cards that I sometimes use in the background, sweep the floor if it needs it, and get my camera gear ready. But that isn’t the main reason. I love the anticipation of an empty studio; a touch of both excitement and anxiety. The dark, silent space is an open possibility; what will we fill it with today?

I began to photograph dancers in the studio almost 10 years ago. Their emotional presence, their athleticism, their sense of space and where they are within it, and yes, their beautiful bodies attracted me. I knew nothing about the formal qualities of dance when I began, but I learned. My dancer models reviewed the photos and picked out any that were not sound from a dancer’s perspective. They are my collaborators. We don’t make photographs of existing choreography. No Nutcracker or Swan Lake. I ask my models to try things, invent things, to be their own choreographers. As they experiment, we refine what we shoot.

“Dance for me,” I tell them “Don’t pose. It’s my job to catch the moment.”

Working with two dancers is both a challenge and a wonderful chance for creativity. The challenge is obvious. To make a successful photograph, I must catch both dancers at their best. A beautiful leap by one is not enough if her partner is flat-footed or past the peak of his elevation. But photographing a pair also lends a certain tension to the image, creates a more complex narrative, and occupies the space differently.

PoppySeed and Emanuel – the dancers in this image – are great fun to work with. They are friends away from the studio and both are supremely trained and talented. They enjoy working together and embrace the challenge of inventing moments of movement that will work well in a still image. The energy changes focus when two dancers are in front of the camera. With one dancer, most of the interaction and energy is between the two of us. We discuss movement sequences, review images, chat, laugh, and rely on our relationship as part of the process. When there are two dancers, things change. The relational energy is now between them, and I find myself on the sidelines a bit, watching as they work out how to pose together. Now I am photographing a relationship between two others.

Everything came together in this photograph. PoppySeed and Emanuel’s positioning was perfect. The belt trailing behind PoppySeed’s skirt elongates her presence and adds to the sense of movement. Emanuel’s widespread arms and PoppySeed’s wonderful leap lifting her hair into a mane invite questions. Is she flying above him in escape or coming into his arms as a homecoming? That question is the viewer’s to answer.

Good images draw us into the story.

What do you think are the TWO most impactful features that make your image a good photograph? Don’t be shy!

I also love the belt of PoppySeed’s skirt trailing behind, a whimsical sign of movement.

If you would be able to make this photo once again, what would be the ONE thing you would like to do better or different?

This is one of my favorite photographs of dancers in the studio. I wouldn’t change it.

E. E. McCollum shared this photograph in the FRAMES Facebook Group.


E. E. McCollum, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA


Equipment and settings

Nikon D810, Nikon 24-70mm F2.8
Studio strobe lighting

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Comments (11):

  1. E. E. McCollum

    November 6, 2021 at 14:21

    Thanks to Tomasz Trzebiatowski for sharing my work here on Frames!


    November 13, 2021 at 18:43


    • E. E. McCollum

      December 5, 2021 at 18:12

      Thank you, Raynal!

  3. Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Malch

    November 13, 2021 at 21:32


    • E. E. McCollum

      December 5, 2021 at 18:13

      Thanks, Aleksandr.

  4. Nimmo

    December 3, 2021 at 23:35


    • E. E. McCollum

      December 5, 2021 at 18:13

      Thanks, Nimmo.

  5. Elizabeth Klanac

    December 4, 2021 at 16:07

    I love the energy… And I love the understanding that while you are the photographer, the interaction lies between the two of them as they speak through body movement. Beautiful image. I wouldn’t change a thing either.

    • E. E. McCollum

      December 5, 2021 at 18:31

      Thank you, Elizabeth. Yes – the interaction changes when more than one person is before the camera. Thanks for the kind words.

  6. Terrance Wimmer

    December 4, 2021 at 20:37

    You give so much credit to the dancers (which is due) but, to me, it’s your lighting that resonates the most in this image. It seems to suspend her in mid-air and highlight his muscular body. But what I really enjoyed the most about this presentation is the joy of the experience … from the relationship with the subjects to sweeping the studio floor. The act of photography should be as important as the photo itself… no?

  7. E. E. McCollum

    December 5, 2021 at 18:33

    Thank you, Terrance – I believe part of what I do as a photographer in the studio with dancers is to create a light environment in which they perform. And, of course, that influences their performance.


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