One of the best parts of my job as the editor of this website is watching photographer Hew Burney taking pictures of dancers. Why did I waste my life learning how to write when I could just as easily have learned photography?
We walk into a strip club and we start scanning the room for dancers. Sometimes I’ll see a dancer on stage who looks good. “How about her?” I’ll say.
“No, she’s no good,” he’ll say. “But that girl who’s talking to that guy in the corner, that’s the one we want.”
“No, the girl next to her.”
“The short girl?”
“She’s perfect. Find out if she’s dancing soon.”
I’ll go up to the dancer and introduce myself. I’m all business. I’ll tell her I’m with a photographer and we’d like to take some pictures of her if she’ll give permission for them to be used online. I’ll usually show her TVO on my phone if she’s not familiar with the site. But once I introduce her to Hew, I may as well be invisible. Hew takes over.
I’ve watched Hew do VIP room photo shoots of a few dozen dancers since he became TVO’s photographer in January. And I’ve been trying to figure out exactly how he does what he does. Most photographers need to have a lot more personal control over things like lighting and angles and shadows and the setting itself, the background, the model’s hair and makeup and everything else.
But you can’t have control over all those factors in a strip club. Strip club lighting is what it is and the dancers are who they are. Hew can bring in a light, but we’ve got to get them in and out of the VIP in 15-20 minutes because the girls are at work and we’re costing them money by taking their time.
Hew starts out with simple instructions: Stand against that wall. Put your palm against the wall. A little higher. Drop your right shoulder. That’s right, perfect. Now look down. Put your other hand on your hip.
The whole time he’s giving instructions to the dancer he’s also snapping pictures, and in between every shot or two, he looks at what he’s just shot, continually adjusting his camera settings.
Within the first few minutes, he’ll show the dancer some of the pics he’s just taken, always with compliments. These are beautiful. Look how sexy you look. He might comment on her hair or her smile or something she’s wearing.
Soon, the dancer starts getting into posing herself, and Hew encourages her. Keep doing that, just keep doing what you’re doing. Beautiful.
The dancer pulls down her bra strap.
It hits me she’s about to do a slow striptease, as Hew talks to her the whole time, complimenting her, and showing her the pics he just took. It’s up to the dancer whether she undresses and how much she takes off.
The dancers often love the pics he’s showing them. They say things like Oh, I like that one! and Can you send me copies of these?
I rarely try to talk to Hew or the dancer while this is going on. By this point, they are on a wavelength with each other. He’s totally focused on getting her to be herself. Good dancers are visual artists and they’re proud of themselves. They quickly recognize that Hew is an artist too and they go out of their way to create artistic photos with him. He captures their personalities, their moods, and their style.
The photos Hew takes of dancers on stage are unlike any pics I’ve ever seen of strippers. He doesn’t pose the dancers but has to capture the moments when the lights and the pose are right. He’ll usually take hundreds of pictures in an evening, and every composition is perfect.
The dancers just dance, playing to the crowd as always, sometimes playing to Hew if they can see him, depending on where he can find a space to take pics from. He can’t ask customers to move.
Here is a gallery of some of Hew’s recent photos of Las Vegas strip club dancers.