Han Balk. Interview


Han Balk from The Netherlands is Magic on Stage category Winner of the Anna Pavlova Ballet Photography Contest 2016.
His experience in photography is very diverse – Han Balk began as a sports photographer working mostly with football and mountain bike racing in the nineties. After a long period without shooting Han has turned back into the world of photography that was drastically different by that time….
Han Balk shot several dance events after he “picked up” his camera again, yet he believes himself to be “pretty new into the ballet photography”.
New or not, we are sure about one thing – fresh, vivid, uncommon images of Han Balk have already gained attention and love of the public.


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How can you describe your style in photography?
I don’t think I have a specific style and I don’t want to be pinpointed to a specific style either. I do like clean shots with bokeh backgrounds and I really like black and white photography although the majority of my ballet photos are in colour. I always try to be a little different, an unusual point of view or lens, a lot of backlight, lens flare or a slightly different post-processing. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t.

What are the specifics of working with dancers as models for you?
Working with dancers has two sides. They want to be perfect and expect you to be the same and push the limits. Working together can be high demanding for dancers and photographers. Sometimes a certain movement or jump needs to be taken over and over again. It can be very frustrating when it doesn’t seem to work out. Both need to maintain their concentration and a regular break can clear the sky.


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On the other side dancers are the most perfect models on earth. Who am I to tell them how to pose or move? We only need to discuss the result, because some poses look really great in real life but look less great or even strange on photo. But when you see dancers sharing your photo for example on social media, you can tell yourself you did a descent job.

What are the “laws” of ballet photography for you? Do you ever break them? Do they exist at all?
I hear a lot of people say ballet and photography are made for each other. For me ballet and photography have a love-hate relationship. Photography can show the beauty and the grace of ballet far better than video or the human eye, but it can also reveal the imperfections. The slightest timing mismatch in a group of dancers can look real ugly and ruin your photo. A bad timing of the photographer is even worse. When you shoot an on stage performance you only get one chance. So it all needs to fit together to make a nearly perfect photo. So if there’s a law in ballet photography it should read that it all needs to fit together. I explicitly said nearly because I’m never completely satisfied with my own images, there’s always room for improvement.

How do you think your photography will be changing with time?
As I said, there’s always room for improvement and I can live with the idea that I’ll never make the perfect shot. So be it. Nevertheless I keep trying and improve my photos.

What are your professional goals? Who is the dancer of your dream?
I don’t have a timeline or specific goals. I hope the exposure of the Anna Pavlova Ballet Photo Contest give me the opportunity to shoot more ballet on stage, rehearsals and in the studio too.

I do want to try some different techniques, never or hardly ever used in ballet photography. Maybe something for the Anna Pavlova Ballet Photo Contest 2017.


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Although I don’t have any specific dancer in mind, I like to shoot some classical ballet too. We have some excellent performers here in the Netherlands, perhaps someday…

Where do you find your inspiration?
Mostly on the internet. Pintrest is a good tool for this; you can make your own online private scrapbook with photos. I don’t want to copy those images, but use them as a starting point for a moodboard. The final result is a combination of several photos on the moodboard. Or even something different because the idea came up during the shoot.

What attracts you more in ballet as a photographer – dancers’ everyday work and routine or the “glittering” performance part?
For me shooting a real great image during an on stage performance is the best. You’ve got one chance, you need to deal with the on stage light and be in the right position. When you work with 2 cameras you can miss some essential shots because you’re just switching and sometimes you’re just in the wrong position. Modern LED lights look really nice for the human eye, but can be a photographer’s nightmare. That’s all in the game.

Your advice to those who are thinking of shooting dance for the first time.
Your camera equipment can never be the limitation. The photographer is the limitation. Learn how it works and get the best out of your equipment. A new, expensive camera or lens doesn’t make better pictures itself. It’s up to you to do this. Just do it, dare to fail and learn from it.

It’s almost impossible to be completely unique, but dare to be different and don’t care about people who don’t like it because it doesn’t look like the majority.

Show your photos to a dancer and ask her/him what you can do to improve your photos can be frustrating but very helpful too.



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