Swing Photographers: Eric Bertrand
Photography and dance are both visual mediums of expression, and a great photograph of dancing can reinforce the spirit of both. As part of a new series over here at Swungover, we’re interviewing several of the great modern swing photographers and showing a gallery of each of their work. The first photographer we want to highlight is Eric Bertrand, who inspired the project in the first place, following some incredible shots I saw of his at an event Kate and I taught at. Be sure to see his gallery post.
What aspects of the swing scene or swing dancing do you like to photograph the most?
This is a hard question to answer. When I first started my goal was to capture the perfect “Action Shot”, you know that moment when someone if flying through the air in an almost impossible position. More recently however I find that I am much more interested in trying to capture people and the emotions they live as they dance. The pure joy of someone in the middle of a swing out, the stress on someone’s face before going out to compete, the emotional hug between partners after a good dance in a Jack and Jill are things I look for.
I also enjoy the challenge of capturing portraits of people off the dance floor. Its incredible when you perfectly capture the spirit of someone in a single frame. Although an action shot is always impressive I find that capturing the mood of a venue and the emotions being lived there to be more interesting.
Who are some of your biggest photographer/artist influences?
My father had a good camera as I was growing up but I never paid much attention until he received a photography book for xmas when I was about 12. Reading the book I was fascinated by the theory of picture taking. I learned about balancing aperture, timing and ISO in different ways to obtain different effects as well as the art of composition. I always enjoyed going through old copies National Geographic and photo magazines. For years I didn’t have a camera but I kept reading up on theory (I’m an engineer by training) and discussing it with my photographer friends.
Then 2 years ago I went out and bought a good camera and started applying what I had learned. The two most influential books I read were Digital Photography Masterclass (by Tom Ang) and 101 Top Tips for Digital Photography (by Michael Freeman)
What’s one of your favorite shots (that you’ve not taken)?
I think this is my favorite Lindy hop shot. I feel it captures the essence and the joy of lindy hop as well as the energy of the crowd.
What’s something you’re currently trying to learn how to do with photography?
I am currently trying to figure out how to use a flash properly. Swing dancing is not easy to photograph given the fast moving, low light conditions that are typical of our dance. Many pictures often come out blurry, out of focus or grainy. Two thing can solve this problem: investing in top of the line equipment (very expensive) or learning to use a flash. However a flash, if not properly used, can easily destroys the mood of an image by blowing out the natural lighting. I am currently trying to figure out the best way to diffuse my flash in different situations as well as determine the right balance between my exposure time & ISO sensitivity to keep subject sharp and well lit without destroying the natural lighting conditions.
Outside of the swing scene, what do you like to photograph most?
Easy, my son Elias :)
What advice do you have for those beginner photographers who are trying to master the art of taking good pictures of swing dancing/swing dancers?
1. Given the very difficult conditions that swing dancing photography presents I feel it is important for people just starting out to take the time to understand a little theory. Photography is about getting the right amount of light on your sensor (assuming of course you are pointing the camera at something interesting). To that end it is important to understand the three main variables (aperture, exposure time and ISO sensitivity) and how each affects your end result. There are great lessons online and on YouTube that can get you started. Once the basics are understood you should be able to adapt your camera settings to the conditions you are in. Any camera can do a good job taking pictures of a well lit stationary object. Capturing a fast moving dancer in a poorly lit bar requires a little more technical knowledge in my opinion. As your experience grows you will be able to mess with the settings to give pictures your own style.
2. Get a camera that allows you to adjust the settings manually so that you are not limited to preset scene modes and can apply the theory you are learning.
3. Vary your view point and look for a different vantage point that you, and hopefully others, will find interesting.
What equipment do you use? What’s your picture editing process?
I have a Canon 50D and primarily shoot with a 24mm-70mm F2.8 and and 50mm F1.8. I am often asked the Nikon vs. Canon question. My suggestion is to go with what you friends have so you can borrow their lenses :). Also if you are just beginning with a DSLR I would suggest investing in a 50mm F1.8 lens which only costs about $100 and opens a whole new world of possibilities.
I have spent a lot time refining my picture editing process. One of the most important parts of taking pictures is getting them off the camera and shared. Here is my current process.
1. Take pictures in RAW
2. Connect SD Card and import pictures into Lightroom
3. Rate pictures from 1 to 5 stars. (1 = delete, 2 = on the fence or needs work, 3= Good, 4= great, 5=Portfolio worthy)
4. Delete 1 star images. I find it important to be very selective in the images I keep since with digital cameras we tend to take way to many pictures and many are redundant.
5. Digitally develop each photo (Adjust White balance, Exposure, Contrast, Reframe if needed, Spot Removal, etc)
6. Export pictures to hard drive (folder structure \<Year>\<Month\<FULL date> – <Event name>)
7. Upload to my website (for sharing and offsite backup)
8. Apply Watermark
9. Export to Facebook
Who’s one of your favorite swing photographers, and what do you admire about his/her work?
Bobby Bonsey does a great job at capturing a party. His use of a fisheye lens bring a very interesting edge to his photography. Although I have never been to Sweden, I feel like I have been to Herrang many times thanks to his pictures. [Ed—We’ll get to Bobby Bonsey later in the series.]