Monday, October 29, 2012

What I Didn't Say on the Today Show

Last week I was on the Today Show with Hoda and Kathie Lee, ready to sip some wine and chat about Dancers Among Us.

First of all, there was no wine.

Second of all, the introduction wasn't exactly about my book...

"Have you ever tried to capture the perfect picture of your kids, or your pet..." Kathie Lee began. She went on to tell the millions of viewers that I would be offering some tips about how to take the perfect photo with an iPhone. But first we had to dispense with this Dancers Among Us business.

We looked at some photos while they said lovely things about the book. They were very enthusiastic, and it was a blast. I LOVED them! We had so much fun, in fact, that we ended up with barely thirty seconds for the camera lesson. "Zoom in to blur out the background," was the only advice I had time to dispense before snuggling up to Kathie Lee for a quick snapshot by Hoda.


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I have since received several emails asking what other suggestions I had for iPhone photographers everywhere. So here we go, with help from a few of my own iPhone photos-

1. Zoom in to blur out the background. Unless the background is photogenic, closer is better.

2. Find even light. Overcast days are perfect! Otherwise, look for shade.

The iPhone cannot read the exposure if your subject is backlit by the sun (it will expose for the bright background, and your child's perfect face will be in shadow). And if there's bright light directly on your subject, the iPhone washes it out.

A great option is to find an interior with lots of window light.

3. Try interesting compositions. Don't put your child right in the middle of the photo- try her on one side of the frame, or at the very bottom or top (to focus, just tap the kid's location on the iPhone, and she will become the point of focus).

4. Avoid the flash option. It's yuchy looking. Unless it's completely dark, it's much better to turn off the flash and use whatever available light you can find.

5. Crop and brighten when you get home. Sometimes you just have to get the shot and worry about composition later. It's easy to use iPhoto to crop any image and get rid of distracting stuff, and to brighten or darken it a bit.

6. Finally, download Instagram. It's loads of fun.

I thought I could get those points covered in a minute or two, but my silly book got in the way. Obviously they'll have to bring me back to demonstrate these techniques personally.

And to offer me that glass of wine.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dancers Among Us is Featured Today by Barnes and Noble. ONE DAY SAVINGS OF 73%!

Today, Barnes and Noble is featuring the Dancers Among Us NOOK Book (eBook) as their Daily Find and will offer the book at an AMAZING price of just $3.99 (List Price is $14.99) for one day only! The NOOK Book is the exact same layout as the printed version, and B&N is your only option if you want to purchase an eBook.

Jump on this opportunity, tell your friends, and get excited for this amazing deal! The photos look STUNNING on screen.

Click here to purchase Dancers Among Us NOOK Book today.

Dancer Among Us Durrell Comedy levitates over a Richard Avadon image at B&N in NYC (full blog about this shoot is titled, "Crashing Barnes and Noble").

Dancer Among Us Aisha Mitchell jumps for joy at B&N in West Nyack, NY (full blog- "Dancers Among Us Gets a Second Chance With an Alvin Ailey Star").

My son Hudson wanted his turn at being a Dancer Among Us.

Seriously, it's either Dancers Among Us or a small latte at Starbucks. I love a good coffee as much as the next guy, but this seems like a no-brainer to me. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

When I Grow Up, I Want To Be Just Like Evan

One of the final photographs I took for Dancers Among Us is, to me, the most inspiring. 

While in college, Evan Ruggiero lost his leg to bone cancer after five surgeries, and he spent sixteen months in chemotherapy once the cancer spread to his lungs- a two year ordeal that could have left him angry and depressed. Instead, he picked up right where he left off! Evan had been a tap dancer since he was five, and he took it up again immediately after finishing chemo. Videos of him tapping went viral, and his aunt contacted me about photographing him. 

We met outside Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center after one of his many check-ups. He immediately impressed me as a dynamic, thoughtful, down-to-earth young man with a great sense of humor. He attempted twenty-two jumps, and I still have no idea how he landed safely every time. But he did. And I know he will. 

Evan will be attending the Dancers Among Us launch party next Tuesday, where I'm sure he will receive an overwhelmingly warm reception. If we're very nice, he may even do some tap dancing for us!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Fifty Photos the World Has Never Seen

I begged and cajoled, threw tantrums and fits, screamed and cried, yet to no avail. Workman Publishing was FIRM: I had to resist my desperate impulses to share all the great new Dancers Among Us photos I was taking across the country.

"I have nothing to post!" I would whine. "I really have to hold everything back?"

Editor in chief Susan Bolotin would soothingly reassure me."Don't worry, the world will see your beautiful photos soon enough."

"Soon enough?" I thought. "It's only January."

Days creaked by. We live in a world of instant gratification, and I'm definitely a product of that environment. Asking me to wait even ten minutes to post a photo is like asking a junkie to wait for his fix. Imagine what ten months was like! Hell on earth.

The wait is finally over. Over FIFTY of my very favorite new images (along with over one hundred previously released photos) will see the light of day next Tuesday, when Dancers Among Us arrives in bookstores across the country. All I have to do is wait one more week. Just seven days. Less than two hundred hours. I can do this!

Or can I?

Every junkie needs a little taste, and this is mine. I will hold the other images, but this one I just HAVE to release early. I've been waiting so long. I photographed Sun Chong of Washington Ballet crossing the street with his mother in front of the Capitol on December 30, 2011. This is the first photo I held back.

Sweet Jesus that felt good! Now I'm satiated.

If you live in or around New York City, please join me and the Paul Taylor Dance Company for an amazing launch party next Tuesday night, October 23 (click here for details). You'll get a signed book, lots of drinks, a performance by PTDC, raffles, videos, and lots and lots of dancing.

Or you can just sit in the corner and look at all the new images in the book!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Seriously, I Get Paid For This??

AJ Blankenship is currently performing on Broadway in Bring It On: The Musical. Last week, he hired me to shoot his headshots and dancer photographs. Once we finished with the headshots, we had about an hour to shoot some dance photography.

The first pose is always the moment of truth- I get to see how exciting the shoot will be. I asked AJ to warm up with a split jump-

Oh boy, this was going to be fun. AJ was also a gymnast, and he started doing some insane running back flips. He could only do ten before the grass got ripped up, but he didn't need more than that.

I was like a kid in a candy shop. I asked AJ if he could do the same thing in the middle of the street.

It was an embarrassment of riches. Next, I wanted a simpler pose, one with more elegance than athleticism.

After shooting the GW Bridge, I saw a painter working on the building next door. I couldn't resist a Dancers Among Us photo.

Finally, one last pose. Now he was just showing off!

I could have photographed AJ all day; he was indefatigable. Unfortunately, I had to get back to my studio for my next shoot. I was sure it would be a huge disappointment. After all, who could possibly compete with AJ. Turns out, AJ's cast mate Ariana DeBose was waiting for me.

Seriously, I get paid for this?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Terrifying Shoot for Dancers Among Us

This is a story about the scariest shoot I have ever done.

In April, as I was winding down shooting for Dancers Among Us, Luke McCollum hired me for headshots and dance promo shots. Turns out Luke had recently finished performing with Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas. He is a beautiful dancer.

I couldn't let such a talented dancer leave without attempting a shot for my book. But over the years I've used every conceivable location around my studio. There was nowhere left to shoot. Unless Luke was as crazy as I am...

Apparently he is. When I suggested a shot hanging off my third floor fire escape, he didn't blink. I almost wanted him to say no, because the idea terrified me. But once it was in my head, I couldn't shake it.

If we were going to do something this nuts, we had to find a great scenario to justify it. Fortunately, my studio had just been painted- rollers and extra paint were still lying around. Luke had no problem covering himself with paint and throwing on some extra clothes from his suitcase.

Luckily, my neighbor was home and I got access to her fire escape for the best perspective. I watched as Luke climbed on to the railing. 

"Let's start easy and see how you feel," I said through the cell phone we were using to communicate. He held on tight and struck his first pose.

Once he felt comfortable, he leaned back a little farther. My heart was pounding so much I couldn't keep the camera straight. 

We took a break. I ran into my studio to show him the shots. We realized that we had the potential for a very special image, and we had to push the limits. Luke needed to release his leg and separate his body more from the fire escape.

"One more time," I said emphatically. "Let's get this before you die."

"If I fall, tell me that you got the shot before I hit the ground," he laughed. I couldn't tell if he was serious.

He tried a few more poses. It was surreal to watch- truly terrifying.

"OH MY GOD!" I yelled, abandoning my cell phone. "We got it! It's a wrap."

I was thrilled. We dodged a major catastrophe, and I had a beautiful photo for my book. I went back to my studio to celebrate. We reviewed the images together. My heart sank when I noticed an unfortunate oversight.

"We need paint on your pants. It doesn't make sense that your pants are clean. I hate that I'm saying this, but it's true."

"That's okay," he said. "I can get my leg higher and my body further out. Let me try some more poses and scream when you like one."

I screamed really loud when I saw this one--

When I forwarded this image to the creative director at Workman Publishing, her reaction was swift-

"You seriously HAVE to stop doing this. Someone is going to get killed. On a related point, do you have liability insurance?"

Thursday, October 4, 2012

I Can't Believe This All Happened in Four Hours! Dancers Among Us Speeds Around Minneapolis

On Tuesday, Workman Publishing sent me to Minneapolis to participate in the Heartland Fall Forum- a gathering of independent bookstores from around the Midwest. It was my first opportunity to address booksellers and discuss my Dancers Among Us book. It was a big opportunity, so of course I holed up in my hotel room all afternoon to prepare my speech.

If you believe that, you haven’t read my blog before! Actually, I embarked on a whirlwind photo adventure with amazing local dancers and photographers.


Our first stop was the venerated independent bookstore Magers & Quinn. They were very gracious when I arrived, even apologizing for not having my book available for purchase yet (it’s not even released until October 23). I took advantage of the rare access by asking dancer Giselle Mejia to risk breaking her neck. She fought through her apprehension (and bruised buttocks) and executed a very difficult pose. It was a fortuitous beginning to the afternoon.

(top photo by Alyssa Kristine)


We headed over to Lake Calhoun a mile away. After all, you can’t shoot in Minnesota without featuring a lake in the background. I quickly realized Amara Barner would have to be IN the lake! Amara stripped down and jumped in-

Fifteen times! Then, as a sailboat floated by, Amara threw her shirt in the air and nailed her pose one final time.


We raced to the famous Stone Arch Bridge, hurrying to beat the clock- I had to give a speech in two hours! When we arrived, the sun was in our faces, making the skyline photo I had anticipated impossible. The dancer would be silhouetted.

We had no shot. Then Giselle said, “It’s really beautiful down there.” I looked over the side of the bridge, and this is what I saw-

Lucas Melsha had running clothes on, and I imagined a Nike poster of a lonely runner sprinting through the wilderness. But could Lucas jump above the railing? He would actually have to jump off the railing, hit his pose high in the air and then land hard without injury. He was so far away that we communicated by cell phone, with me trying to pantomime my notes like a wild man. 

(top photo by Katrina Eudy)


I had thirty minutes and one dancer left. I decided to stick with the athletic theme, so I asked Duncan Shultz to do something really crazy. Who knew stretching could be this scary.

When the sun finally dipped behind the buildings, I got the skyline shot I had been waiting for. Duncan changed pants and made a beautiful adjustment to his pose. When a jogger turned around in mid-stride to gawk, I knew my incredible day of shooting was complete.

I was a happy camper!

 (photo by Alyssa Kristine)

Oh, and the speech went great!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Dancers Among Us Gets Picked Up After Dark by Atlanta Ballet

It’s hard to believe this Dancers Among Us shoot was completely spontaneous- the setting is just too picturesque. 

Once again, serendipity saved the day. I was driving around rural Georgia with five principle dancers from Atlanta Ballet- Claire Stallman, Jacob Bush, Rachel Van Buskirk, Alessa Rogers, and Pablo Sanchez. Along for the trip was Will Day, a local photographer documenting the process. 

I was looking for quintessential Americana. I had my mind set on an auto repair shop at dusk, but we couldn’t find one. To our great fortune, we met Ellen Ianelli from the Madison Visitor’s Center. She enthusiastically volunteered her friend’s vintage red pickup truck. 

We raced to the house as the sun was getting low in the sky. When we arrived, the truck's owner wasn't there and nobody knew how to start it. Desperate to beat the sunset, we all pushed the truck on to a dirt road next to the house and popped the hood. Pablo changed into a dirty T-shirt and someone found a huge wrench in the backyard. Fortunately, Will had a tool box that was a perfect match with the truck.

I struggled to think of a good pose as the sky darkened.

Finally, I had the idea of Pablo taking a cigarette break with his feet casually extended straight out. He executed this difficult pose twenty-eight times in ten minutes. It was so dark that only two shots were in focus. This was one of them.

(we brightened it a bit and added saturation in post)

Within two minutes, it was too dark to shoot. My camera wouldn't focus anymore.

Two minutes! What amazing luck. We almost missed the shot by two minutes. That's serendipity!

To see more examples of what was seriously a serendipitous three years, go to You can also purchase the book or buy tickets to the launch party on October 23 in NYC.