Swing Photographers: Hilary Mercer

Photography and dance are both visual mediums of expression, and a great photograph of dancing can reinforce the spirit of both. As part of an ongoing 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 second photographer we want to highlight is Hilary Mercer, who lives in North Carolina, and will soon be moving to Tacoma, Washington. Be sure to see her gallery post.

What aspects of the swing scene or swing dancing do you like to photograph the most?

I like to photograph the people. Which I know sounds like a “duh answer” but specifically the people not competing. The ones that are just there to dance. Everyday people. It makes people’s days when I go out of my way to take a good photo of them dancing. Making people happy makes me happy. Plus anyone can take a good photo of a rockstar dancing. It doesn’t take much — they are already dressed awesome, create amazing lines while dancing and typically do some fun aerials. I like the thought of in 10-ish years showing my kiddos how awesome his parents are… or were (though the plan is to continue dancing.) The same goes for everyone else. I’m sure others will want the same and getting a good dance photo isn’t easy.

I also really like the aspect that I’m photographing history in the making at these events. Whether it be the actual competition, the relationship developing of a new “swing couple,” or someone’s first exchange. All of these things will be important in many years to come. It could mean that someone may die (hopefully not — but it has happened in the scene and his parents were quite glad to get those photos from me), or that the couple get married. I think in general thats what I like about photography though, the aspect of capturing what others aren’t or can’t.

Okay, that sounds like a totally lame answer but it’s the best I have for you and it is honest. I wish I were a better writer, but I guess that’s what I have you for, eh?

I think that’s a great answer. What element tends to come out most in your favorite photographs (that you’ve taken)?


I feel like most of my dance photos make you feel like you were there in the moment. I’m also a big fan of the lens flare and that seems to pop up in most of my favorite photographs. It just makes me so happy.

Can you clarify what you mean by “lens flare?”

Who are some of your biggest photographer/artist influences?
I’m pretty influenced by my peers. People that are doing the same thing as me. Struggling through all the challenges that comes with owning your own business. There is no manual on how to run a photography business. It’s a trial and error kind of thing. But believe me, I know when I messed up and I’ve been sure not to repeat those mess-ups. I have learned so much from them. People can be so helpful and I would honestly be nowhere without them. But if I have to name a few big named ones: Michelle Dearing (She is the reason I got into photography. My first camera was purchased from her), Carrie Sandoval (with Baby as Art) and Joel (who does self portraits and is AWESOME at them.) [yeah, those are amazing–ed.] Also, almost completely forgot about my mom. She was crazy artsy. The Jill of all trades. She could do it all. I think I got my skills from her, she pushed me a lot as a kid/teenager to do more artsy fartsy things. She would be proud.

By the way, that is a super hard question ’cause I seriously look up to a lot of people.

What’s something you’re currently trying to learn how to do with photography?
Well, lighting sucks at dance events. Its especially bad with Lindy Focus. I don’t know why they like that red light but they do and it makes me crazy. So, I’d say I’m trying to learn how to deal with that. Still. Three years in and I still haven’t mastered it. In general photography lighting can be an issue and it takes a while to understand it. I feel like it’s just not making sense to me. But with swing photography it’s constantly changing especially during performances. I think it will be a never ending, changing process for me. I wish I could shoot in some clean white light and see how that differs. It appears Lone Star knows how to light their events.

Outside of the swing scene, what do you like to photograph most?
Oooo, I love those newborns. It’s taken me several years to master them and I still haven’t “mastered” them but I do feel like I’ve been rocking all of my newborn sessions recently. That said, I absolutely love weddings as well. I love the “fly by your seat” kind of days especially when they end up with perfectly awesome photos. I love that I can be part of the rest of someone’s life. I guess the same goes for newborn photography. I get to capture those vital moments in people’s lives.

This one here, though; He’s my new absolute favorite thing to take photos of.

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?
It’s hard. I wouldnt recommend anyone try to do it that ISN’T a lindy hopper. You really have to know the dance. Most of photography is learning how to anticipate situations and read situations. That way you actually get swing outs not just of the follow’s back. Other than that, experiment! Get creative with your shots because they MAY work out for you.

Do you have a favorite photograph (that you’ve not taken)?
Would it be weird to say no? That I actually don’t have a favorite. Nothing at all came to mind when you asked me that. I have lots of ones that I like, that are good. But nothing that sticks out.

What equipment do you use? What’s your picture editing process?

Equip: All Nikon
85 1.8
18-105 3.5
sb 600
What I actually use currently:
50 1.4
sb 800

My editing process is different for my swing photos than it is for my business photos. Mainly because they are completely different things. For my Lindy photos most all of my editing is done in Adobe Lightroom with a few presets I’ve either made up or found randomly along the way. For everything else, photos into LR- edit for contrast, sat, exposure- Export to PS and refine the photos there. The same thing goes random actions or actions I’ve made up in PS. :)

Who’s one of your favorite swing photographers, and what do you admire about their work?

I have the biggest crush on Bobby [White–ed.]. It’s OK, Neil knows. ;)

I love his photos. [Oh, wait. She means Bobby Bonsey. — ed.] They are full of life. It seems he captures people well. He overuses the fisheye but if I owned one Id probably overuse it too. It’s quite an expensive lens for being a “play” lens. Anyway, I like how its also his business(along with other things for him). I feel like a lot of swing photographers don’t do this for a living. So, it makes me respect him since were kinda in the same situation. I like how he sticks up for himself as an artist. Plus were the same age and I think thats pretty cool. Youngins FTW. :)

2 responses to “Swing Photographers: Hilary Mercer”

  1. Why does everyone like Bobby Bonsey so much?!!
    Great photos, I will admit.
    But he’s kind of a jackass.
    Most instructors are cool about interacting with people at events. I spent an entire weekend asking the guy to dance with me. He mentioned in class on Friday that if I wanted, he’d dance with me at the dance and help me with some particular swing out thing we’d talked about that I just wasn’t getting. (And my friends said he was fun to dance with…) So, I went to the dance. And I <> waited until he didn’t have camera in hand, and asked him to dance. And the next night. And the next. And literally SIX times, I got a “maybe later” sort of response. Even when I reminded him that he’d already blown me off multiple times. (Usually, after I’ve done that to someone ONCE, I make it a priority to seek that person out and dance with them.) Then I gave up. He will never have the honor of dancing with me; sucks for him.

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