2016 03 - Ballroom to Lightroom

06th March 2016
Retford & District Photographic Society - Press Release - Joy Allison
3rd March 2016

Images by Fredric Frennessen

From Ballroom to Lightroom

Fredric Frennessen, a former international ballroom dancer turned photographer, came to speak about his transition from the ballroom to photography using the well known photographic software Lightroom.

Having come to the UK from his native Sweden to further his dancing career and subsequently met and married fellow dancer Vicki, Fredric enjoyed a successful amateur competitive career before turning professional in 2000. He and Vicki now run dance schools in Surrey and Hampshire. He has recently discovered an interest in and aptitude for photography and rapidly risen to the forefront of the specialist dance photographers in the UK.

With refreshing candour Fredric did not give a well reasoned argument for his choice of kit when he took up serious photography. He described how having his digital video compilations of friends’ events very well received encouraged him to go to buy a digital camera. He became a Nikon user because that brand was on offer that day. Through a number of upgrades he remains a faithful user.

The photography of ballroom and Latin dance events had historically been what we are well used to hearing referred to as ‘record shots’; images limited to snapshots of couples on the dance floor or receiving trophies which were then sent to the specialist press. These images were limited to point and shoot shots from head height, offering little attempt to capture artistry or add to the dynamism of the shots. Fredric felt more was achievable if he worked at it and he began to experiment with both his kit and his techniques.

With beginner’s enthusiasm and confidence he sent the dance press a CD of his first shots and had some published. Buoyed by this, he decided to learn about the technical skills which would enhance his work. Not one to do things by halves, he applied for a City and Guilds course. Following an interview he was accepted into level 3, bypassing the first two years of study. For his final year special studies Fredric chose to work with people, and specifically exotic make up, and with merchandising for alcoholic products. He showed examples and spoke about his techniques to capture the photos he took at this time, including some striking shots of bottles and glasses which shone with stunningly crisp detail.

Having started the course, and brimming with confidence, Fredric sent off an image of a model in Pierrot make up to DSLR magazine for their expert critique section and was delighted to see it published, if slightly less delighted to read the comments, which he now agrees were positive suggestions to improve his photography.

Fredric used a water tank to capture some of his more unusual images from this time, capitalising on the effect created by bubbles. His research also enabled him to use music to create effects. By dropping liquid paint onto a membrane securely fixed over a loudspeaker through which he played drum music, Fredric captured images of the paint leaping into the air in response to the vibration from the sound waves. The results were delightful and unique, but the technique was short lived as it was extremely messy!

Wanting to invest in better equipment, Fredric decided to generate funds by selling items on E-bay. He put his photography to good use by taking crisp, clear images of the things he was offering for sale, all carefully displayed, and he was rewarded with an average 25% higher prices for is goods compared to similar items.

Fredric was known in the dance world through his dancing and teaching. This gave him access to take his dance pictures from the floor at the big UK events. There are some five other dance photographers who work at the events, but none have danced competitively. Fredric has an advantage in being aware of where on the floor the lines, moments of stillness in the routines, occur and where in the music the line will be displayed to the maximum effect. Using his experience to take his shots at just the right time he can capture the faces of both dancers and ensure he gets them and the lady's moving dress sharply focussed.

As with the sports photographers we heard from earlier in the season, Fredric is not in control of the lighting, timing or environment in any way. The lighting will vary from venue to venue and as he works couples will come into his viewfinder as their routines move them around the floor travelling anti clockwise. Sometimes the man will be in black, making the image inclined to over expose, but that couple may be followed by another where the colours are very different. He has worked on his technique and settings to ensure that he can cope with these variations. One crucial factor is to shoot his images in RAW rather than JPEG as this allows him to use Lightroom to compensate for many of the effects of the light and the colours.

Fredric is still developing his own trademark style. He now tries to shoot from a low vantage point, to adds dynamism and drama to his shots. By speaking to the dancers in advance and encouraging them to look into his camera this is further enhanced, as we saw in shots taken at UK championships. Some of the top professional dancers are now asking for his images to use with their sponsors, validating his approach. He also has a high success rate in getting his images on the cover and illustrating articles in the dance press, and brought examples to show.

The crowded floor in the early rounds of day-long competitive events make it difficult to photograph couples without others in the background, so Fredric will only photograph the later rounds. Here he has managed to improve his results by investing in lenses which allow him to work with lower f-stops and so throw the background out of focus. The ballrooms have no natural light, so all photography relies on the venue lighting, which Fredric augments by careful use of flash, which the organisers permit. This limits him to shooting individual shots as motor drives shoot more quickly than a flash can recharge, so again his experience as a dancer is key to getting the best possible results.

Fredric concluded by showing a number of images of different genres which had arisen from opportunities presented to him by his dance students. These included portraits for corporate and artistic effect, weddings, babies, boudoir and landscape shots.