On the Ground

Precious Pixels

By Grace Wells-Smith
  • Jason Martin in Falling by Martin and Janelle Hacault / Photo by Leif Norman

Capturing and collecting images of work is crucial for dance artists. Photos are essential for promotional purposes, applications and reports. The Dance Current spoke with Leif Norman, a photographer based in Winnipeg, who often works with dancers. As part of this work, he finds himself discussing with dancers how to best digitally document their work.

Image size and quality

“The term ‘high resolution’ is used without any care or understanding of what that means,” explains Norman. “It is basically meaningless.” The quality of the image depends on where the image is being used and how large it will be. According to Norman, 1000 pixels wide is sufficient for online use, which includes websites and Instagram, a widely used platform where dance artists promote their work. 

For print, which includes magazines and posters, dance artists will typically be asked for images that are 300 pixels per inch of paper being printed on. “If you send in a photo to a magazine that is 2500 pixels wide and 3000 pixels tall,” counsels Norman, “then you should be golden for anything they want to use it for.” 

In a magazine, the image would be no greater than eight by ten inches, but for a promotional poster the size could be much larger. “An average Digital SLR camera puts out an image at 4000 by 6000 pixels,” explains Norman, “if printed at 300 pixels per inch, the image would be twenty inches wide.”

Copyrights and credits

On November 7th, 2012, the Canadian Copyright Act was adjusted, under Bill C-11, to acknowledge that freelance photographers are the first copyright owners of their photos by default. This means that an agreement does not need to be signed between a photographer and a client to determine who owns the photos taken. A client should be open and honest with a photographer about their intentions with the photos and get consent when passing along the photos to any form of media. 

For every photo printed or used online, a credit should be included. A proper photo credit includes the names of all dancers in the photo and the full photographer’s name and/or company, if applicable. The date, show name, choreographer’s name and presenter’s name should also be included, if provided.

What to expect during a shoot

When hiring a photographer, a client should expect to pay between fifty to two hundred dollars per hour, with the higher end of the scale being reflective of the photographer’s artistic and technical abilities. 

Norman suggests having a photographer take photos of a full dress rehearsal so the photographer can get close to the stage and dancers without impeding an audience’s view. “I take my shoes off,” says Norman, “and prowl back and forth hunched down in front of the front row going from stage right to left, while trying to predict where the action will go.” Having an audience will limit the photographer’s possibilities. 

During a photo shoot, professionalism is expected and it is the photographer’s responsibility to ensure their subjects feel safe and comfortable. As the client, the dancer has the right to stop or leave a photo shoot at any time. 

Parallel to promotional purposes, Norman speaks highly of the historical value of capturing dance through images. “I have photos of people that have since retired from dancing and are doing choreography that has never been performed since. It becomes precious very quickly,” he says. Getting your work photographed helps dancers in their present careers as much as it leaves the community with archival relics of how our community was, is and will be shaped.


Jason Martin in Falling by Martin and Janelle Hacault / Photo by Leif Norman

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