Rising Light: Tanne Willow’s Journey from Film to Dance to Digital

30 November, 2017

Written by: Harley Anderson

Tanne Willow first caught the photo bug when she was a high school student in her native hometown - Stockholm, Sweden. Her photography teacher, Stephan Lundgren, an accomplished sports and nature photographer in his own right, harbored a wealth of information about the art and craft of photography that he freely shared with his students. As a bonus he was able to hobble together enough lighting and studio gear to create a working photo studio in which his students could explore the possibilities of artificial lighting systems.
 
But rather than pursue a career in photography after she graduated Tanne took a detour and pursued her other passion - contemporary dance. She knew she would be returning to photography at some point in her life but this was the one and only time she could pursue dancing. Photography however was never off her radar. 
 
 
Far from simmering on a back burner, Tanne continued to hone her photographic skills during this time period by setting up photo shoots using dancers she performed with as her subjects and models. Though she relied on hair and makeup artists and assistants whenever possible, Tanne propped and styled most all of the photographs she has produced.
 
 
Tanne sees many parallels between dance and photography, both of which combine factual elements - things that we know or believe to be true, with elements that are suggested or imagined and left to the viewer to interpret from their respective points of view.
 
 
After 13 years of performing and teaching she decided it was time to return to photography, which by now had all but transitioned from film to digital. Realizing she catching up to do on the technical side - especially in her lighting skills if she wanted to go professional, she decided to find a photography school in her newly adopted hometown, Los Angeles. 
 
She ultimately chose the Los Angeles campus of the New York Film Academy, a school that offered a no-nonsense curriculum backed by a well-stocked equipment locker and studio space in which she could take her photographic skills to the next level. Gear and facilities aside, the school also offered a variety of photo-related technical classes and photo history classes taught by instructors that know their subjects.
 
 
Having entered school with only the basic understanding of studio lighting from her high school days, Tanne began exploring hot lights, followed by electronic flash - first in the studio and later on location, often blending flash with the ambient light (a technique she enjoys using in her personal work.)
 
In the studio Tanne has mastered using Profoto Acute 2400 studio packs
with Acute D4 heads, but her true passion is shooting with Profoto B7 battery packs with Profoto Pro-B heads out on location where she’s learned to mix flash and ambient light quite effectively.
 
 
There’s a theatric quality about many of Tanne’s photographs and more than a hint of dance-inspired movement between the subjects and their respective surroundings.  
Tanne was intimidated at first when she first began using the B7’s but she quickly came to understand the control interface was about as simple and friendly as it gets. She appreciates the ability of controlling the light output as well as having the ability to split the power between up to 3 heads. Tanne describes the B7 system as being ‘organic’ - it just feels right.
 
Having used pretty mush every light shaping tool in the school’s equipment locker Tanne finder herself most enameled with the Profoto Softlight Reflector White beauty dish, which she uses with and without silks depending on the image. Another lighting accessory she likes employing is the Profoto OCF Softbox Octa. Color gels have also been finding their way into some of Tanne’s more recent work. 
 
 
As for inspiration, Tanne likes the interactions between photographer Sally Mann and her subjects. She also likes the work of video artist Bill Viola and any film by Quentin Tarantino.
 
Though primarily a Canon EOS 5D Mk III shooter, Tanne recently began experimenting with a large format 4x5 Toyo camera. She loves the visual dynamics of larger format - the photographs have a different feel, and she enjoys playing with the camera’s various focus and perspective control movements. And then there’s the speed factor. Photographing subjects with an inherently slow camera changes the experience of sitting before a camera. The timing, pacing, and atmosphere of being photographed by a view camera is quite different compared to ‘speed-shooting’ with a Canon 5D Mk III and a couple of wide-aperture 24-70mm and 70-200mm zooms. They both have their place, and it’s good to know how and when to use both systems.
 
 
 
Tanne is graduating in January 2018 and plans on latching onto every opportunity she can including shooting and assisting with the goal of succeeding as both a fine art and commercial photographer. As for the grand prize, Tanne Willow’s ultimate goal is to have a show of her work at the Fotografiska - centre for contemporary photography Museum back in her native Stockholm.
 
To see more of Tanne Willow’s work visit her website and Instagram pages.
 

Written by: Harley Anderson

Products used in this story

Softlight Reflector White

Our classic beauty dish

Air Remote

Syncs and manually controls any Profoto Air light

Zoom Reflector

A classic among our light shaping tools