Circus Photography

By Carleigh Saberton

As a circus performer, I can say that most circus people love to post pictures of the awesome skills they learn on social media. But how can we get amazing photos? It can be difficult to capture the excitement of a circus trick into a single picture. I talked to photographers Jenna Lowery, Allen Ramsey and Matt Steffen for some tips and tricks for getting breathtaking photos.

Jenna Lowery is the official photographer for the American Youth Circus Organization’s AYCO festival. She helps coach aerials, acrobatics and more at My Nose Turns Red Youth Circus’ advanced summer camps. Many circus photographers photograph not only rehearsals and classes but live performances. Photographing live performances can be difficult because you have one shot to get the perfect photo. Jenna says that anticipation is very important when photographing live subjects, “I have always felt that my background in performance helps me anticipate what movement is next. When you give yourself the space to anticipate what is coming you can make choices about what you perceive to be the height of a particular movement.” Knowing what trick is coming next can be very helpful. So, think ahead and be prepared for what’s coming next. Jenna also says, “Don’t be afraid to fail! Go outside and shoot. Take your cameras to practice and shows and photograph everything.” Failure is necessary for success. In order to become a great photographer, you first must fail a couple times in order to learn from your mistakes.

Allen Ramsey is a sports action photographer for many high school and college sporting events throughout the Greater Cincinnati area. Although he does not specifically photograph circus performers, one of his favorite activities to photograph is competitive cheer. Competitive cheer can be similar to circus acrobatics. One major aspect of getting great photos is practice. Allen says, “Practice, practice, practice. Shoot whenever you can. Try different settings to get a better understanding of what you and your camera can do.” Practice applies to all activities from circus skills to playing an instrument. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. The more you work on skills, the better you will become. Going along with practice, he also says, “I would suggest talking to photographers that you see at events or games and ask if you can shoot with them. I learned a lot about being around others.” If you see an opportunity, whether that be taking a picture of a friend or shadowing a more experienced photographer, you should take it.

Matt Steffen is a performing arts photographer who shoots a lot of concerts for many media outlets and has worked with many performing arts associations with their digital design. He is the main photographer at the youth circus I attend, My Nose Turns Red. Matt says, “I absolutely believe that the best camera for the job is the one in your hand.” Very expensive cameras aren’t always necessary. “If you have a shoebox and some photo paper, you can still make an incredible image.” Matt also points out that emotion is important in photos, especially when the person being photographed is performing. “I think people relate more to a photo when they see human emotion.” So, he tries to focus more on the performer rather than the trick. He says, “I try to stay close enough to catch the facial expressions and worry less about the equipment and extraneous information.” To really make your picture stand out, Matt says, “Everyone sees the performance from the crown, the unique perspective of being right in the middle of the action sets the photo apart. Don’t be afraid to walk into the scene, stay close, have fun, and be ready to dodge a runaway unicycle.”

Overall, there are many different aspects of getting amazing circus action shots. Some of those being anticipation, failure, practice and capturing human emotion and facial expressions. By putting in the effort, all of the aspiring circus photographers out there can become amazing. Most importantly, when photographing circus performers, always be aware of flying objects! I would like to thank Jenna, Allen and Matt for letting me interview them, you guys are amazing, thank you for sharing your photography knowledge!

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