Dance Photography is not only a fast growing industry within the dance world but also an intriguing one, won't you agree? While Dance is all about movement, the way a dancer floats between the realms of time and space; Photography is all about stillness. Then how do these two worlds collide and what is its scope in India? Today we speak to Inni Singh, a professional Dance Photographer who has been capturing the movement of Indian Classical Dance in perfect stillness for almost a decade. Inni is a self-taught photographer who from his early years as a musician had always been interested in digital photography. Slowly his passion gave way to this profession which he manages along with his family business of musical instruments.
Q: Do you feel it is important to be from the dance/arts industry to pursue dance photography? The photographer must know the taal/beats and the musicality of the performance, right?
A: I don't think this is important. But if you have some knowledge of the music or movements, it definitely helps. It has helped me being a musician for sure. But I have seen western photographers shooting Indian dances better than most of us even though they are not very well versed with our form of music and dance.
Q: What do you like more - to capture a movement or more intricate aspects, like the facial expressions or the dance attire etc.?
A: I usually like to capture the very subtle movements therefore I don't shoot many pictures but wait for the right moment. This is where the understanding of rhythm helps. I try to learn the patterns from the performances I shoot at the venue itself. It’s challenging but very interesting.
Q: While in an ongoing performance or while photographing a studio rehearsal, how do you ensure that the dancers and/or the audience is not disturbed? Do you manage to invisibly click awesome photos?
A: I definitely try to not disturb the artists. Try to remain in the shadows and work noiselessly. I often hear this from the performers after they see the pictures I shot - 'We did not see you anywhere, we assumed you didn't come for performance' :)
Q: What are the few angles that you blindly know will work in a photographing session? Or is it always different for different dance forms?
A: I like to experiment and bring in variation in all my shoots. Sticking to just one angle is not my kind of work, whether it is live or studio.
Q: Shutter speed and ISO are definite aspects one must be aware of. Any other musts on your list?
A: Other than the above, there are many other things in the camera that I look into when shooting live performances with ambient light. This would be metering mode, aperture value and color balance. A good combination of all these would give a right exposure for the shot.
Q: Which fellow dance photographers do you admire?
A: I like Srinivasan's work in Delhi and there are a couple others. However most of the works I have seen are mostly postures that the photographers concentrating on. However this is not what gets me inspired. I have been shooting classical dance and music for many years now and it is the expressions where the beauty lies.
Q: Your tips for budding dance photographers? How should one start with this art?
A: Don't shoot unlimited pictures of a performance thinking that you can choose the good ones later, even though technology allows us to do that. This way you are killing your creative eye and cheating with yourself. Let your talent help you :)
Q: How do you see the future of the Dance Photography industry in coming years? What have been the major changes/challenges that you have batted through in your innings so far?
A: Digital cameras and cheap DSLRS are making anybody a photographer these days. Some even think that photography is not a talent but pure science; that you just study the technicalities of the equipment and you will automatically know what, when and where to shoot. But most miss a very important factor - Photography is all about light. Studying helps till a certain stage and then its the way you see the scene, light and shadows that help you compose the image. Composing on the stage in a live performance is difficult. Technicalities of the camera settings will not help you compose your image; Your senses, the heart, mind and soul when in perfect understanding, will! And in the end it will come to down to how talented you are in visualizing a shot.
The major challenge in dance and music photography is the financial aspect. It is difficult to get paid in it. Even though I know I will shoot this as long as I live, I don't think I could depend on it solely to earn a living. No matter how good you are with the camera, critiques would still think that you are just clicking on the stage with the available lighting, which is most of the time appropriate. Also because there are many 'budding' photographers shooting pictures, it eventually becomes easily available on social media sites for free, regardless of the resolution or quality with someone's watermark on it advertising as a photographer :) When a professional photographer shoots a performance, he/she is not just taking pictures but actually capturing hours and hours of hard work of the performer and himself.
Q: Which work of yours are you proud of and why? Do share a photo with us.
My best work is yet to come :) However few of my works has received a lot of appreciation - PARKAYA by Sarvam Foundation (Nehha Bhatnagar), TARPAN (75 years celebration of Gandharva Mahavidyalaya) and Atish-e-ishq by Sneha Chakradhar. I also experimented with doing makeup shots with Sneha, the results of which were quite liked.
Q: 9 years and still counting... Who or what has been your greatest inspiration?
A: Even before I started shooting music and dance, I used to shoot on a Russian reel camera, (Zenit- I still have it :) ) mostly family portraits. When I started shooting Classical Music, I used to go to concerts with my Tabla ustad with my little Olympus point and shoot camera which had a 15x zoom which was considered huge at that time. At that time IIdid not know who the best or well-known photographers were in this field. I shot what i saw and kept on doing this. Gradually I started upgrading to better equipment and started obtaining better results. My first Dance shoot was of Dr.Raja & Radha Reddy at SaMaPa Sangeet Samellan in Delhi. When the performance started, I was about to leave the auditorium but stood on the side of the stage to take few shots before I left. After my first few shots, I just could not leave and was mesmerized by the performance, music and the ambience it created. Rest as they say is history..then Parkaya happened in 2014, January. Since then I have captured almost every performance in Delhi..
A couple of years back I met the legendary Mr.Avinash Pasricha, one of the most famous personalities in this genre of photography. Ever since, I have been inspired by his work and try to get my work evaluated from him. His inputs have been so helpful. Being self-taught has its own advantages but learning from a guru is priceless.
You can catch more of Innis's work on his Facebook page and do post us any questions you have on Dance Photography. The Dance Bible is here to address anything and everything related to Dance.