2014 Iris stars: Amber Griffin

Amber Griffin began her creative career as a graphic designer, working predominantly in the advertising industry, but found being shackled to a desk not to her liking. In 2012 she struck out on her own as a professional photographer, doing commercial advertising work and studio portraiture, carving out a niche in dance portrait photography. It's a move that paid dividends at this year's Iris Awards, where she collected a handful of top awards, including a Gold in the Commercial category for the above image. Amber discusses what went into her award-winning image with D-Photo:

D-Photo: Who was this image created for?

Amber Griffin: This image was created to promote the end of year dance show for the 2013 graduating class of Whitreia Performing Arts Centre in Wellington. The show was called ‘Galapagos’ and each performance item revolved around an oceanic theme. My client wanted to showcase the talent of each individual performer in a way that unified them as a class while alluding to the overall theme, which is where the concept of the ‘wave’ came from. The brief was more of a collaborative process between the dancers, their tutors and myself.

How did you go about putting the shoot together?

At my studio I specialise in dance portrait photography and originally photographed each of these students individually for their own commercial dance portfolios. This ‘wave' image evolved from selecting and compiling one image from each of these individual portrait shoots. It was a lengthy process, several weeks all up. I am an avid retoucher and, as the image evolved, this work became a labour of love.

What are dancers like to work with as subjects?

They’re wonderful! I adore working with commercial dancers as I can easily relate to them. I danced myself for many years so have a reasonable understanding of terminology and expectations and I think this attribute is key to successfully working with dancers. Also, because dance is a visual art form, most dancers tend to be extroverted and willing subjects who are enthusiastic about the photographic process.

What sort of lighting set up were you using?

To achieve overall consistency for the final image I used identical studio lighting for each individual shoot – large strip soft boxes on each side to emphasise the muscle definition of limbs and a soft front fill.

What was the most challenging part of creating the image?

Designing the layout was probably the most time-consuming and challenging part of this image as I had so many options to select from – imagine trying to solve a jigsaw that has unlimited solutions!

How much time do you put into editing?

Far too much! It’s certainly not a commercially viable style of work for a client with a limited budget. However, I am passionate about producing exciting dance photography so I see an opportunity to work with talented young dancers like this as a privilege and catalyst for creating something that I otherwise may not be able to create.

What sort of responses have you gotten to the image?

I’ve had extremely positive feedback from my client and all the dancers involved in the process. At the Iris judging, the image initially received a Silver Distinction with one judge commenting that the vignette might be too heavy and he wasn’t a fan of the windowless mounting style. Other judges disagreed and thought both these features were actually beneficial to the success of the image. Generally the judges' comments were overwhelmingly positive and they all seemed to be impressed by the obvious amount of work that had gone into the creation of this image. It was re-judged and awarded a Gold.

Check out more of Amber's photography and retouching work at her website