Spotlight Interview … Dance Photographer Christopher Peddecord

JRP Blog welcomes Dance Photographer Christopher Peddecord to this segment of our Spotlight Interviews. Thank you Chris for sharing some time with our readers.

Christopher Peddecord: Thanks for having me!

JRP: Where do you call home Chris?

Christopher Peddecord: Home is where the heart is and I just discovered my heart in Portland, Oregon. I lived in Salt Lake City, Utah for the last six and have been looking for a change of pace and  lifestyle. Portland is exactly the kind of city I want to live in.

JRP: What led you to photography and do you have any formal training?

Christopher Peddecord: I’m not sure what led me to photography other than technical curiosity. My first camera was a little Canon A60, a point and shoot camera with horrendous amounts of shutter lag. I loved to just play with the camera and enjoyed taking snaps here and there with it. Eventually I brought it into the theatre with me and found that I was telling our stories from backstage. I also found that if timed it just right I could compensate for the shutter lag and AF lag as well and capture the moment.

As far as training, I have none. We’re conditioned as dancers to see line and shape intuitively and I bring that training behind the camera where I can. The training at Ben Stevenson’s Houston Ballet Academy is what has stayed with me the longest and has greatly formed how I work as a choreographer and thus as a photographer.

I feel that the technical side of photography is far too overblown and talked about whereas the artistry isn’t talked about nearly enough. You can learn how to operate a camera in an hour but to know how best to use it for a given situation to capture what you want is something I and other photographers are always learning.

JRP: Is there a photographer whose work has inspired you and helped define your approach to Dance Photography?

Christopher Peddecord: There’s one photographer in particular that has influenced my dancing, my choreography, and thus my photography … that is Greg Barrett. He released a publication called “tutu” right when I started dancing seriously and ever since then it’s painted my imagination with a curiosity of how far the human body can be pushed.  To this day, I know of no other publication that can rival what Barrett accomplished.

JRP: What would we find in your camera bag or studio for a typical shoot?

Christopher Peddecord: You might find a lot of gaffers tape, a few rolls of Tri-X (or HP5, depending), and my Nikon kit.  I used to shoot with a D2H until I upgraded to the D700. It’s a fantastic camera that just works whether I’m shooting sports, on location, in the studio, in a dark theatre or in my living room. I’ll be shooting with this camera until it falls apart I reckon. It’s just that good all-around and makes zero excuses for you.

Apart from that: AF-S 17-35mm f/2.8, AF-S 80-200mm f/2.8, AF 50mm f/1.4, AI-S 55mm f/2.8 Micro, AI-S 105mm f/2.5, Lensbaby 2.0, Nikon N90, Yashica Lynx 14, Holga 120

In my lighting kit: Paul C. Buff Einstein 640, White Lightning Ultra 1200, Nikon SB-24, -26, -80-DX, and lots of light modifiers

JRP: Is there a lens that you tend to favor and why?

Christopher Peddecord:  Every lens has its proper use for a given application but in the studio or in the theatre it’s my 80-200mm f/2.8. It’s sharp, it’s fast and it gets the job done.

JRP: Could you please describe your digital work flow and the software you use?

Christopher Peddecord: I shoot entirely in RAW and import into LR3 where I do about 90% of my work. For my winning shots I’ll go into CS5 for dodging, burning, and other more local adjustments that CS5 is better geared towards than LR3.

When I pull an image into CS5, however, I do not edit the dancer in the least. If anything, I remove further background distraction and leave the dancer as is. I don’t believe I’ve ever retouched a foot to make it appear more pointed or a leg more straightened. The calibre of dancers I work with ensure this is never a problem.

JRP: What lighting set-up do you use in your studio sessions and why?

Christopher Peddecord: Usually a single light into a large modifier. My two favorite light modifiers are the Paul C. Buff 86” Silver PLM with and without diffusion and a gridded softbox. That’s really three different modifiers with three different qualities of light.

The silver PLM without diffusion acts like a very highly focused umbrella with zero spill. It’s a bizarre light source, it’s soft because it’s so big but hard because it’s so specular. With diffusion it functions like a slightly more focused umbrella. It’s a very versatile system.

The gridded softbox, however, takes the cake for me. It’s this focused soft light with a just a touch of fall-off which produces very dramatic light when used just right.

As for why just a single light? Too often I see photos that get marred by being over-lit. If anything, I want what technique is in my photos to be hidden. You should be seeing the dance and the dancer, not my technique.

JRP: Image printing, how do you handle that?

Christopher Peddecord: I don’t. It’s simply easier for me to outsource my printing to those people who do it daily. It’s better for them and for myself and it’s one less thing to worry about.

JRP: For you what is the most critical moment in the capture of an image?

Christopher Peddecord: I work primarily in the studio and the most critical moment for capture is in the preparation.  With dancers, you have to make sure the studio is warm, safe and conducive to dance. I’ve heard too many horror stories of a dancer being asked to work on location in an unsafe environment. Our bodies are our lives and to risk placing that body in jeopardy is to risk not being able to put food on the table or a roof over our heads. So much of what I do is high-risk movement that cannot be duplicated anywhere but in a dance studio and if the dancer doesn’t feel safe they won’t be able to perform at the a level high enough to produce the image I want.

While on a shoot, I prefer to have my equipment ready to go by the time the dancer is ready and warmed-up so that I don’t have to fuss with my lights in the middle of a shoot and break the concentration of the dancer. I want to be ready before the shot happens and give that same confidence to my dancer.

After that, the actual moment is easy. Electronic flash forces you to capture the moment right and with my timing as a dancer I can usually get a passable image the first time the dancer performs a movement for me. Dancers have a limited amount of stamina and being able to capture a movement, refine it, perfect it and capture it without tiring out a dancer is critical.

JRP: With today’s economy how have you adjusted on the planning of your projects? Has it affected the size of your team on shoots or decreased what you offer your clients?

Christopher Peddecord: Dance photography is very much a niche and what I do is even more specialized within that niche. I very rarely have a team to work with and have been self-sustaining for most of my time as a photographer. I prefer it that way as it lends the studio to intimacy where I can really connect with my subject and it feels like less of a performance.

JRP: What has been the best advice given to you by another photographer?

Christopher Peddecord: During my first semester working for the Daily Utah Chronicle (the University of Utah’s student newspaper) we had a portfolio review. I had plenty of excellent sports and news images but at that time my dance work has from dress rehearsals or otherwise. From a tech rehearsal I had an image I quite liked and our advisor Jim Fisher called it “dancer masturbation“. He said it did nothing, was just a well timed moment and nothing more. He ripped into it with a complete lack of mercy that at first left me a bit hurt but eventually forced me to rethink what dance photography should be. It was the last time I ever fell into that trap.

So many photographers when approaching dance and dancers approach it from a place of awe and wonder, a place of worship and reverence. We train all our lives to become masters of our own bodies, capable of leaping and moving in ways we had no idea our bodies could move in. It’s different for me as I’ve been constantly around that for my entire adult life and as such, I don’t create images that reflect that. I don’t feel that anybody working in an office daily and weekly wants to create a glorified image of an office replete with staplers and paper clips. Dance has been my office space for too many years to count and to create a regular dance image just feels wrong and most of all boring.

JRP: What advice would you like to share with photographers just starting out?

Christopher Peddecord: Move! It doesn’t matter if you’re shooting your kid’s soccer game, family photos, dress rehearsal or just some fun snaps at your local pub. Use your two legs and force yourself to move. If you think you’ve got an excellent angle to work from it’s not. I’ve seen far too many photographers and videographers, both amateur and professional, plop down in one place and not move an inch, it’s disappointing to see.

JRP: Thank you Chris for sharing your thoughts and images with us. It has been informative as well as a pleasure talking with you. We wish you continued success.

Christopher Peddecord: Thank you again for your time!

JRP: To view more of Christopher Peddecord’s photography please follow these links:


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