With stunningly bold dance photos and almost 43K followers on Instagram, Francisco Estévez, @candidlycreated, is certainly a leader in the dance photography world.
A former dancer with Boston Ballet and Angel Corella's company in Spain, Estévez is currently a principal dancer with Colorado Ballet in addition to being a dance photographer. (Oh, and he's also a new dad!) Talk about a full plate!
We were lucky enough to sit down with Francisco to chat about his photography background, his top tips on how to calm your nerves before and during a photoshoot, and some helpful advice on what to keep in mind when filming audition videos.
Hi Francisco! First, congratulations on your new little one! We must ask, how did you and your wife, Tracy, (featured in the beautiful photo above) meet?
Tracy and I met in La Granja, Spain. I had just left Boston Ballet to join Angel Corella’s company in Spain, and she had been dancing there already for a few years. I met her briefly on my first day in 2010 and quickly made friends with her friends while she left for a photoshoot for Wear Moi. Once she got back, we grew close!
How did you get your start in photography?
I started photography in 2012. I was always interested in it and would always take photos of everything with my point and shoot camera. In 2012, I entered a ballet competition in Spain, and I told Tracy that if I won the competition, I would use the winnings to buy myself an entry level DSLR and Tracy a puppy. I was fortunate enough to win, and we got our puppy, Peca, who will bet 10 this May, and I bought my first camera.
I started by photographing our company’s performances, and when I moved to Denver, I began focusing on studio photography.
Can you share with us a little more about your background in dance photography, in particular?
My background in dance photography starts with photographing my fellow dancers at Angel Corella’s company in Spain. I am completely self-taught, and I taught myself what I needed to learn as I went along. My style has evolved over the years, but I now focus on creating images that are unique in pose and lighting.
Has being a dancer influenced your photography style and eye, and if so, how?
Yes, absolutely. Being a dancer has given me the tools to capture images accurately. As a dancer, my knowledge helps tremendously with timing and creating a variety of poses tailored to the strength of the dancer I am photographing. However, dance photography is a tricky art form.
One may be a dancer and photographer and struggle with translating 3-dimensional shapes onto a 2-dimensional plane. Understanding both elements together in order to tailor images that are true representations of what ballet positions appear to be in 3-D is pivotal, and I could not do one without knowledge of the other.
What advice can you give dancers to help them #FeelGoodDanceBetter during a photoshoot?
My biggest advice would be to do a self-assessment of what you believe your strengths are. If your photographer is not also a dancer, what will look good to them may not coincide with what you know looks good on you. Come prepared with a few poses to start from, and feel free to evolve from these poses while using them as a base. Also, start with simple poses to start your shoot and get warmed up in front of the camera. Finally, when in doubt, choose poses in croissé. Crossed poses are always more forgiving.
"Come prepared with a few poses to start from, and feel free to evolve from these poses while using them as a base."
Is there any leotard silhouette or dancewear style that you feel photographs best?
I am always a fan of spaghetti strapped leotards, especially for audition photos. They tend to show off a dancer’s port de bras and neck better and do not bunch up in the back when doing the much-needed arabesque photos.
Having photos taken of yourself can be nerve-wracking, especially if they’re being used for auditions! Do you have any tips to relax and enjoy the process?
The best way to shake off nerves for an audition shoot is preparation. Practice the positions you need photographed using the slow-motion feature on your phone so that you can see accurately see what position you are making. This is especially important if you have a photographer that is not well versed in dance. If you feel prepared, you will be able to relax and enjoy the process more.
Do you have any other audition photo or video guidance?
My biggest audition photo advice is to remember that you need to make the positions you do in class look like what they do in real life into two dimensions. In order to do this, you may have to play with perspective and exaggerate certain positions so they look correct on a flattened 2-D plane.
For audition videos, the biggest advice is to remember that the big picture is more important than any one detail or exercise. Most admission staff will be able to get a good sense of who you are as a dancer from your entire video, and focusing on one exercise over and over is not productive.
It will make you tired and take away from how you execute the rest of your exercises. You must always remember that the person viewing your video will not be focusing on your video in as much detail as you are. Accepting this perspective can often have a relaxing effect during a shoot and, in turn, you will perform better.
I’ve seen some of your photos that have been taken in-studio, outside, and live on stage. What are some of the biggest challenges of each? Is there one setting you prefer the most?
The biggest challenge for in-studio photography is probably posing. Once you have mastered lighting patterns, camera settings and all the technical stuff, making sure that the poses we choose for each dancer is the biggest concern in studio photography. In the grand scheme of things, this is quite an easy hurdle compared to outdoor and performance photography.
Performance photography is often in very low light conditions that can fluctuate depending on the lighting in each piece, so one must be able to know what settings to change and adapt quickly. In outdoor photography, lighting can change but not as quickly as in performance photography, but you must be able to find interesting settings and deal with crowds, so composition and lighting can be a tricky factor.
I prefer studio and outdoor photography because it gives me more creative options than performance photography.
Do you have any “favorite” shoots that you’ve done, to date?
I like all my shoots but my favorite one has been the 2016 series I did called “Shadows and Dust”. It incorporated flour and involved a majority of the Colorado Ballet dancers at the time!
I know that you’re offering summer workshops that offer both training and the opportunity to have a creative photoshoot with you! Can you explain a bit about that workshop experience and what your creative shoots are like?
The workshop experience is a new concept that Tracy and I are developing. Our goal is to offer weeklong programs with very small groups that will prepare and supplement dancers’ training in preparation for summer intensives, year-round programs, or company life.
Each workshop aims to take a comprehensive approach to training and will include classical technique classes with individualized emphasis on variations, pointe, and men’s technique and will also focus on cross training, artist talks, and physical therapy and wellness. It is a program that gives dancers concrete tools to take and use in their traditional setting.
The creative aspect of the workshop will be a culmination of either a video recording of a variation worked on during the workshop and/or a creative photoshoot that commemorates each dancer’s work during the weeklong intensive.
That sounds like an incredible opportunity! How can dancers book a session with you?
Dancers can book sessions with me via Instagram or my email . My pricing is online, but keep an eye out on my Instagram, as I have also rolled out the very popular mini sessions, which are a great way to get your feet wet before committing to a larger shoot. These sessions are $99 for 5 images and last 30 minutes. I offer them periodically, and they are deeply discounted, so it is a great gateway to dance photography.
Photography Website: http://www.franciscoestevezphotography.com/studio
Dance Workshop Website: https://www.balletprivate.com/