The Ballet Project started as an experiment. I had an idea for ballet photos in the woods that was inspired by this photo taken by David Hobby. I ended up liking what I came away with so much that I decided to continue to shoot in other locations around the Hudson Valley and Catskill regions of upstate New York. Then at some point I realized I had something unique that might have wider appeal, so I created The Ballet Project.
It is an ongoing photo series with my children as the models. I hope these become keepsakes for my kids. I was inspired to start this project because my daughters study ballet, and I wanted to create images that depicted them in an almost story book scene so the rest of the world could see the vision I have of them. My goal was to create a fantasy world but retain the identity of the location. I wanted it to be obvious that these were shot locally. I really wanted to show the beauty of ballet along with the natural beauty of the Hudson Valley.
I hope the viewer walks away with a sense of wonder. I hope they recognize the scene but see it in an entirely new way. I use my lighting to make the scene more saturated and intense—almost surreal—while retaining a sense of reality on the ballerinas. I guess you could say I strive to show the ballerinas in an idealized version of a local setting.
This project has taught me two things. By branching out on my own personal work, I was able to take the time to develop a certain look and feel for the photos. In the end I created a style that I hope is identifiable. I also learned a lot about lighting. By shooting these scenes and lighting them in such a way, I learned new techniques and started to apply them to my commercial work and being able to make those sorts of shots happen in weddings and portrait sessions.
I shot the Ballet Project with a Nikon D700 and two old Nikon SB-25 strobes and two light stands. Most of the photos were shot with a Nikon 50mm 1.8. A few were shot with a Nikon 80-200 2.8 and Tokina 12-24 f4. Pretty simple set of gear for the project. Sometimes heading off into the woods or up on top of a mountain meant I needed to travel as light as possible. That meant keeping the gear down to a minimum. I think it helped in the end with the simplicity of the lighting.