Dance photography is an expression of the beauty of movements and emotions. Dance can be a source of great shots, but it’s no secret that taking pictures of dancers is very difficult. Cropping, focusing and releasing the shutter at the right time, absolutely everything should be done, with better exposure in available light. Choreography involves not only capturing action, but also the aesthetics and emotions that pervade the movement. There are some tips on how to create expressive shots of dancers.
What is the location where you will photograph? If the dance will be held outdoors, then, as a rule, there is enough free space for every photographer to work and the question of choosing the best lens for dance photography with one or another focal length is not so acute. But in any case, you will take general shots and close-ups, so to make shooting easier, you can take a zoom lens with focal lengths from twenty-four mm to seventy mm or up to one hundred and five mm (such lenses are widely represented in stores and are very popular due to versatility). Sometimes even a telephoto lens with a focal length of seventy-two hundred mm fits well. You get wonderful emotional portraits (this helps especially in case of social dances, such as kizomba, where there aren't many figures and movements, but there are emotions)!
Each dance consists of numerous intermediate “points” or static poses. To put an end in dance terminology means to fix a pose for the viewer. And the whole dance is a transition from one pose to another. If you do not have serious equipment, you can endlessly and ineffectively catch these points. You should feel the situation one step ahead, predict the next movement and position of a dancer. Each of them always has a direction towards the viewer, all movements and emotions look most advantageous from one point that the dancer works for. It is necessary to determine this direction and take a shooting position. And if it is battle, then dancers are directed at each other, and it makes sense to take a position opposite to one of them.
Additional materials, tripod, and good lenses will allow enough light to reach the camera's sensor so that ISO sensitivity can be kept as low as possible to minimize visible noise. Ideally, your photographic equipment should include both a wide-angle lens for shooting the entire scene and a telephoto lens for close-ups. Be prepared with spare batteries and additional materials to obtain the best results.
Use manual shooting mode and be attentive to have additional equipment to succeed. Try to keep a distance of minimal 50 cm for a studio and maximum distance to reduce optical distortion and lengthen limbs. Photographing dances requires more powerful light sources of 1000 – 1500 W, and it is desirable to place the device at a distance of 3-4 meters from the model, for uniform illumination of the whole body. For a soft drawing, healthy octoboxes and softboxes on a suspension system are used, and for a sports and contrasting picture, you can take a beauty dish, for backlighting and background strips, for spotlights – small softboxes.
The background is illuminated evenly by several sources and separately from the model. To compensate overexposures and shadows, reflectors or masks are placed on the left and right.
For jumps and dynamics, a generator with a pulse length of about 1/5000 s is already needed to freeze the movement. Smoke, transparent fabrics, powder, etc adds dynamics and volume to space.
A static scene with many artists and good lighting will allow you to cover the diaphragm, lengthen the shutter speed and reduce photosensitivity. Moving at full strength, especially in a solo or duet part, requires a very short shutter speed, of 1 / 500–1 / 1000 seconds, and this almost always forces you to work with a maximum open aperture. In return, we get a sharp picture with the main subject, separated from the blurry background.
The viewer wants to see the beauty in the photo, the actor needs perfect movement, theater administration wants a picture that can be used for a poster or publicity. A photographer must convey his impressions, be primarily sensitive, emotional, not detached from what is happening on the stage.
The moment of shooting is always determined intuitively. Over time, you will learn to understand the completeness of posture and take courage to not follow the rules. Do not forget that not only technical, balanced and high-quality shots are in demand. Most important is the author’s view, the emotional involvement of the viewer in feelings.
It sounds strange, but this allows you to give the picture a special explosion dynamics. In the photographs, you can see both classic ballet dancers and those who perform a break. The Big Bang Theory is one of the names given to photo style with flour. To create various effects (fog, explosion, dust, smoke) when photographing, you can use wheat flour, sand (but it is heavy), talc (the lightest, weighs longer in the air, leaves no residue on clothes), colored powders (as in Indian Holi), as well as highlight the powder with color filters.
Be prepared that some shows use strobe lighting, which can cause surprising effects. You may miss many points of performance if you are not ready. Fast-changing light not only distracts dancers but photographers as well. Prepare and respond quickly enough, because this may be an opportunity to be creative. Slow down the shutter and get a stroboscopic effect. Dance is not the only action. Many people think necessarily about jumping shots, but calm moments can be not less dramatic.
Look through finished results during a performance. Monitoring is important. As for post-processing, since everyone is usually limited in time, everything should be done quickly and efficiently. Process the shooting in specialized applications and software. Important frames are slightly retouched. Look at material twice: the first one is a draft, then pause to refresh eyes, and finally, the second time is the final one.
Remember that your camera can take pictures that not everyone can see. When you work with angles, light, and movements, pressing the shutter button, you will take shots that may not be a flattering option or angle for dancers. Be careful when choosing the final result and background for pictures (if you are an invited photographer and completed the order). You are paid to demonstrate the best moments of the show, desire, and perfect composition, not funny faces and mistakes of the scene. Get permission from all the participants or company, especially if you share images on social networks, on a website or anywhere else. You can get a great promotion of your professionalism, publishing only the best pictures in your album.
Close-ups of faces of dancers or some other details of the staging scene can also create memorable pictures. Legs are also very important for choreography, especially if there are bracelets on the ankles of dancers. The photo can become successful also because the lighting is focused on legs.
The most important thing in jump shots of dancers is the exact time and aperture. In case if you see the jump and have not yet pressed the button then you are already late. To choose the right time, expert photographers advise not to rely too much on serial shooting. Instead, find out when to press the shutter button. Sometimes it is possible to determine from the music at what point dancers prepare to jump. It will probably take much time and errors, but thanks to this your photographer’s skills will only improve.
Talking about the right exposure, it is necessary to mention that it is a complicated aspect of dance photography tips. Working with professional shows and events, flash is usually not allowed. That is why you should do your best with available lighting, which will surely differ from one show to another. Practice more and study the manual of your camera to be ready to shoot in all conditions.
It is easy to forget about everything when you are caught by the magic atmosphere of the show. Be attentive filming participants and audience. Always ask if it is permitted to capture the faces of viewers and dancers. Be aware if it is possible to use flash or it is better to turn it off. Do not get too close to performers, because it can be very distracting if you invade their space getting on the stage looking for the best show. The dancers work very hard to improve their presentation and skills. If they refuse to pose, you would not have your photos. Think about how they would like to look in the frame. Show them great results to award the hard work they are doing. Make their efforts justified. Never forget to indicate dancers and choreographers on your frames when you post pictures and albums on social networks. Watch more performances, shows and dance competitions!
Black and white frames permit showing more feelings in facial expression and movements. If possible, you should visit the dress rehearsal of the dance performance. This will allow you to focus on the most presentable angles and details, as well as plan necessary movements during the shooting of the hall and, think in advance what camera settings may be needed. It is also worth considering the sequence of your movements. Thus, you will have the opportunity during the dance to focus on the most important points.
In the case, for example, with the shooting of European ballroom dancing, it is most convenient to work being in a corner. Usually, pairs of dancers slow down their movements being not far from the very edge of the stage, then you can obtain the most successful shots.
During the shooting of various wedding or club dances, it will be necessary to photograph people without model experience, so it is worth changing the emphasis. Here the significance will not be the location of the shooting, but psychological readiness of dance participants themselves. It is better to focus your attention on people who want to pose. If you take pictures covertly, then most likely pictures will be somewhat extraordinary. But such photos are sometimes quite popular and interesting, so you do not need to completely abandon this method. It is necessary to photograph all those who dance on different heights, for example, a stage or a table. Pictures of this format are sometimes quite good. You also always need to be prepared for subsequent lengthy editing. Use professional applications and software which will easy the processing of every picture.
Learn modern dances, styles, and techniques. Generally, check what is happening in this area. It is better to attend several dance classes. Only such preparation will allow you to understand what exactly you are photographing. The career of dancers is not so long to make a huge number of mistakes in capturing their work in action. Black and white dance photography, as well as color options on stage, maybe the only memory of these precious moments, so try to make such pictures that will bring people the joy of pleasant memories.