My name is David Teran, and I photograph ballerinas around the world in a quirky and interesting fashion, drawing inspiration from the works of Rodney Smith and Arnold Newman. I use one Hasselblad 500CM and a combination of 50mm, 80mm, 120mm, and 150mm lenses, using only Ilford films, 99.999% of the time it being HP5.
I showcase some of the world’s best ballerinas in a different light, using the same(ish) camera that went to the moon.
Why did you get into photography?
David Teran: I initially wanted to be a chef, and a friend suggested I purchase a camera to take pictures of my food. After realizing friends enjoyed their pictures made, I started photographing as many friends as possible, and slowly the food passion died … but I still love to eat food!
What photographers are your biggest influences? How did they affect who you are and how you create?
David Teran: Rodney Smith & Arnold Newman are some of my biggest influences. The way Smith photographed the world opened up my eyes to a ‘different’ type of seeing, quirky and humorous. The way Newman took portraiture out of it’s then normal element, the studio, and introduced it into the world, is a bit similar to how I photograph ballerinas.
How long have you been shooting? How do you feel you’ve evolved since you started?
David Teran: I have been photographing digitally for 14 years, but shooting with film for the past 7 years. Initially, I would Photoshop as much as possible, making everything perfect and ‘ideal’. Today, since I know I can’t Photoshop film, I work to make everything as perfect in camera as possible. Otherwise, it’s on the darkroom print for good.
Tell us about your photographic identity.
David Teran: The last 5 years, film photography has consumed me entirely, focusing on photographing ballerinas around the world with a quirky twist, all the while honoring the ballet technique.
Tell us about the gear that you’re using.
David Teran: I strictly use a Hasselblad 500CM and one (1) roll of black and white Ilford HP5. I use a combination of 50mm, 80mm, 120mm, and 150mm lenses. The fact that I only have 12 frames to get what I need, and each frame is different than the last ensures that I give the utmost care to getting ‘The Shot’. A lot of ballet photographers typically shoot hundreds and thousands of pictures in just one session; to limit myself to 12 frames puts an immense creative pressure to get it right.
Natural light or artificial light? Why?
David Teran: The funny thing is that my portraiture is 100% natural light + strobes (matching ambient usually). This project is entirely natural light. What you see is what you get. Natural light allows me to travel without much gear, and shoot solo, without any need for sandbags or VALs (voice-activated-lightstands [thanks, David Hobby, Strobist]).
Why is photography and shooting so important to you?
David Teran: Film photography, specifically, allows me to capture my subjects in a manner that is true and exacting, without any Photoshop. Any manipulation done is with dodging/burning the exposure/contrast, to guide the eyes of the viewer on the darkroom print. To make something that is true and and exacting in a world that is full of the next fake thing is tremendously wonderful.
Do you feel that you’re more of a creator or a documenter? Why? How does the gear help you do this?
David Teran: I don’t necessarily see a distinction between the two options, creator or documenter. A creator documents how he/she sees the world, while a documenter creates the world he/she wants shown, with composition and angles. That being said, in this project, I see myself more as a creator, working hand-in-hand with the ballerina to make an image that hopefully makes you think, “well, that’s different; I’ve never seen a ballerina like that.”
What’s typically going through your mind when you create images?
David Teran: MAKE SURE I AM IN FOCUS. Shooting with film has probably given me all the grey hairs that I have on my head; missing focus is the absolute worst. My process usually starts with looking through a mood board and seeing what would work with this particular ballerina/subject in combination with wardrobe/temperature (can’t wear leotards in the cold!) and location. Come shoot day, I have a mood board with about 12 inspiration images, starting points if you will. My goal is to ensure I never copy the inspiration images, but rather that you could perhaps see how my final image and the inspiration image were once distant cousins in a different life. I meter my film at 200 ISO, over-exposing by one stop from the normal 400 ISO. Since my Hasselblad has a split screen focusing screen, I have a special focusing card I’ve made that I line up with the subject’s eye, giving me a vertical line to focus on, and ensuring proper focus. Instead of hand-holding the camera, I am on a tripod which helps with the focusing and stability; I consistently shoot at 1/8th and even 1/4th of a second.
Please walk us through your processing techniques?
David Teran: Since this is film, after the photo shoot I immediately tape the roll shut and place it in a bag for safekeeping, labeling the roll with the subject’s name and date. Upon arrival to my darkroom, I mix 50ml of TMAX Developer and 450ml of distilled water, and develop the HP5 as normal (as if I had metered for 400ISO) for 14 minutes, agitating the non-stop for 60 seconds, and then 10 seconds every minute thereafter. Once the film has gone through the remaining chemicals (Stop, Fixer, and Photo Flo), and dried in my film dryer for 30 minutes, I cut and sleeve the negatives, writing down the date and a unique, chronological number on the sleeve. I then photograph the negative with a Nikon Macro lens, which results in an inverted .NEF (Raw file), which I can tweak in Lightroom for Instagram.
Tell us about the project that you’re pitching, or your portfolio that you’re pitching to us.
David Teran: Hasselblad Ballet is the name of the project I’ve been pitching. Since January 2018, I have photographed over 200 ballerinas in 20 different countries and 50 cities, each with one roll of HP5 film (12 frames) and my trusty Hasselblad 500CM.
What made you want to get into your genre?
David Teran: Photographing ballerinas kinda just fell into my lap. I travel often for my day job, portraiture photography. A client of mine booked me for a shoot in Argentina, and coincidentally the next week I came across an online article of a NYC ballerina guest starring in Buenos Aires, the same city I had just booked a shoot in. After reading the article, I reached out to one of the Argentinian ballerina friends she mentions, and asks if she’d let me photograph her… with my old film camera. I have no ballet background, but now fully respect the hard work and dedicate the ballerinas give.
What motivates you to shoot?
David Teran: Finishing my book is what has motivated me for the past 5 years, putting these images out into the world and hopefully giving the ballet world something a little different that does their beautiful craft justice.