What I learned from Working with Emma & Price Suddarth

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Coming back to shooting dancers after way too much time away from it was difficult. And I was grateful that Emma & Price Suddarth, husband and wife ballet dancers happened to be people I’d photographed right before the pandemic really took off. I felt like I could breathe a little easier knowing what amazing people they are and that they’d work with me well.

Still, that didn’t make getting in front of them easier. I knew they were just coming back to the stage after the entire lockdown, not to mention having a baby boy. And they are people I’ve been wanting to photograph as dancers (I had photographed their maternity session in 2020) since I first saw them on stage with Pacific Northwest Ballet back in 2016.

We chose to do the shoot at sunrise so we could play with the fog, but also so that we could all get back to our kids and work. I had them wearing casual clothing, and I also tried to come to the shoot with a few pose ideas. I learned very quickly that getting to know your dancers, how they work, what they consider to be their strengths is very important. Also, the terrain can quickly cut out poses, especially if that terrain involves water, sand, and tiny uncomfortable rocks.

When we got out in front of Lake Sammamish, I suddenly felt like I didn’t know what to do with my hands and my mind had gone blank. It was embarrassing, to say the least, but the Suddarths didn’t give me any grief over it. I probably spent 50% of their shoot giggling and apologizing and saying, “this is not how I normally work.”

Photography, like anything else, is something you have to practice all the time. It can be like riding a bicycle. It’s not like I forgot how to use my camera or how to focus or any of that, but the act of getting in front of a subject that wasn’t my kids was truly terrifying after so much time away. They were gracious and patient and understanding. And I’m grateful that they were, but I did wonder if any images came out and even went home thinking I might ask them for a reshoot.

When the images came back from this shoot, I felt like I’d failed. They were a bit too overexposed, and I felt like the brilliant colors were somehow muddying the composition of the images. I edited quite a lot of them. Usually, I’m able to find “the shot” before editing any, but this time, I had some trouble. And, once I’d begun editing, the shots started to fall into place, almost ranking themselves in order of favorites. The image below is my absolute favorite shot, but there are so many more that I fell in love with after doing some tweaks or even converting them to black and white.

What I learned from this editorial with Emma and Price is that shooting something every day still doesn’t protect you from getting rusty. Most of the time, I step in front of a couple or subject and feel the need to do a little warm-up, so after an entire year and a half of a pandemic-enforced break, I was in need of an extra warm-up. I’m so glad they were the ones who helped me with that. I also learned that a little editing can go a long way. For a long time, I truly believed that postprocessing an image meant that I was a bad photographer, that if I couldn’t get the perfect image in-camera, I wasn’t doing my job perfectly.

Of course, what I’ve since learned is that the tools are there to help us, and as technology improves, it doesn’t mean we are worse photographers for using it. It’s just another medium. Postprocessing, editing, color correction, can be useful and can often shape the way the story comes together. It’s up to each artist how we choose to use it.

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