Interview with Photojournalist Ron Wyatt

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Please tell us about your start. What got you interested in photography?

My first experience with photography was when I went on my honeymoon with an instamatic camera and all of my pictures came back blurry because I would shake the camera each time I released the shutter. I was working on the assembly line at General Motors at the time and decided to learn how to do photography. My first camera was in AE1 Canon and when I purchased that camera I was seated in front of the television and practiced releasing the shutter without shaking the camera.

One day the Exxon oil company had an explosion and I went down to photograph the fire. I submitted my photos to a local newspaper in my area and they invited me to become a freelance photographer. One day they wanted to assign a staff photographer a New York giant football game and he didn't want to do the game. I volunteered to cover for him and had a very successful day of shooting pro football. After that the newspaper gave me the credentials to shoot pro football games. After 10 years of freelancing for newspapers and working on the assembly line at General Motors I decided to quit GM and to go full time with photography.

What led you to photographing the Moscow Ballet tour in 2016?

I saw an ad saying that the Moscow ballet will be coming to a town near where I live and I decided to send them an email to see if they would need a photographer to document the performance. After about five months of negotiating over the phone, they offered me a position for two months to tour with the East Coast group and I accepted the assignment.

How does being a tour photographer differ from shooting a single performance?

Touring is much harder to do then shooting a single performance. Most days begin at 7am when we would load in to the new theater and do the setup which takes about 3-4 hours. Part of my assignment was to do portraits of the kids cast from every city that we visit which is where I would use Photoflex umbrellas.

The portrait sessions usually last about an hour and after the shoot I would process the images and post them. Then in the evening we would have a performance and at that time I would have to photograph the show in pre-show with the ballerina and the guests. We usually would end the night at about 10pm and it took about two hours to strike the set and load up the equipment truck to move on to the next city. While on the bus traveling to the next city I worked on the photos from the evening and also transmitted them to various sites so that they could have a morning view of last night's performance.

My lighting was very simple. I used a two-light set up to photograph portraits of the cast on a backdrop before the actual show. The show itself was shot using available light from the theater. Using the umbrellas was a quick way to do my set up and sometimes I even shot with just one umbrella and would bounce the light off the ceiling to give me a two light look. I was happy to get my hands on some vinyl lights which were battery operated, allowing me to avoid power cables running around on the venue floors where someone could possibly trip over the wires.

Do you have any words of wisdom for photographers who are just getting started?

If you're just getting started and wish to do dance photography, I recommend that you contact your local studios and begin working with those groups. Once you've gained confidence and experience and have some work to show in your portfolio you can start contacting the bigger companies. Like any other types of photography, the more you shoot, the better you'll get. Proper equipment is essential. I'm talking about good quality cameras that can shoot at high ISOs and fast lenses where you're able to shoot at 2.8 or faster.

Photographer Ron Wyatt has covered the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball. He also photographed two Summer Olympic Games. His photos have appeared in various publications such as: USA Today, Black Enterprise Magazine, Time Magazine, Newsweek TV Guide, ESPN and others. See more of his work at his website.

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