10 Easy Steps Part 2- Electric Boogaloo

September 24, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

If you missed the 10 easy steps for the performer you can find them here.

10 easy steps to great performance photography- for the photographer

  1. Show up early- Be prepared
    If you want to shoot a performance you’re going to need a good seat. If you have permission and a friend, have them walk the stage to find the sweet spots for lighting. Take some test shots and adjust your settings. Check your ISO and photo size no matter what camera you are using. If you have access to more settings (SLR), ask your friend to do a spin or two to account for movement when checking your shutter speed. Keep an extra memory card and battery nearby just in case.
  2. Read your manual
    Camera technology is absolutely amazing right now. Certainly an SLR and a fast lens is going to make a huge difference with dance photography, but many small point and shoots have great capabilities if you know how to use them. The big trick? Actually sit down and read the manual. -I recently met a girl with a nice brand new Nikon DSLR with which she had been shooting vacation photos. She asked me to take a few shots of her with her friends and though I’m a Canon girl, I immediately knew something was wrong. I checked the settings, tried to clean the lens (which she proceeded to wipe with her hands- YIKES!), and then saw that her lens was set to manual focus. She had no idea that was even an option, so not one photo before I met her was in focus. Sadly, her story is not new. The moral= read your manual!
  3. Don’t flash
    Not only is using a flash rude and often not allowed, it is distracting to both the audience and the dancer. If not used skillfully it can leave sharp shadows and generally unattractive photos. Since you’ve read your manual you should be able to simply turn the flash off. Flashing a smile at the dancer on the other hand is allowed and encouraged. The best smiles are always created by a genuine response. Now capture it! 
  4. Stabilize
    Your subject is already moving quite a bit which makes focusing tricky at best. By stabilizing your camera you will have one less element getting in the way of a sharp photo. I’m not suggesting it’s necessary to carry a tripod around with you, though there are some really great little table top ones, but some sort of stabilization is really helpful. If you are sitting at a table, brace your elbows on a table top. If you are standing or have no table, tuck your elbows in to your sides and if you have a camera strap wrap it around your hand. If you are doing video or just want more movement, you can easily make a stabilizer for about a quarter by taking a length of string, tying a washer to one end, and a bolt that fits the mount on the bottom of your camera on the other. Screw it into your camera and stand on the washer making the string taut. If you are using a larger SLR and/or have the funds, try a monopod or tripod with a ball head. I prefer the monopod as it has a small footprint and doubles as a walking stick.
  5. Change your Point of View
    Between songs try sneaking to a different spot (stay low and out of the way). Many venues have a higher area in the back or towards the sides where you still have a straight shot of the dancer with no heads in the way. You’ll get more interesting shots and a chance to stretch your legs. If it’s a big show you may want to try to get your hands on a photo pass beforehand. This cuts down the dirty looks if you move around.You may be stuck in one spot for the whole show and there’s not much you can do outside of the camera. If this is the case, try changing from horizontal to vertical composition, different ranges of zoom, and changing your camera settings. The whole dancer does not always need to be in the shot to make a great shot!
  6. Focus on the face
    Many people rely on their camera’s [auto] setting for everything. I think a good chunk of them would prefer to eat sand than read their manual, but it really can make all the difference in the world. Most cameras have a setting that does most, but not all, things automatically, [P]. One of the auto settings you should leave behind is full auto focus. When full auto focus is on you have no control over what your camera thinks should be in focus, it chooses the focal points for you. It could focus on the background, a mike stand in front of the dancer, or even just a part of the dancer on which you hadn’t intended to focus. You can choose the spot on which you want to focus and I highly recommend you do! Either choose a center point or slightly off center if you intend to do mostly vertical shots, a little circle or square should show in your viewfinder. Set that point directly on the face of the dancer, press that button half way down to engage your auto-focus, and then physically move your camera to recompose your shot without moving your finger! When you push down the button all the way down for the shot, the face will still be in focus (provided the dancer hasn’t moved toward or away from you in those seconds) and that is awesome.
  7. Wait for it vs. Spray and Pray
    If you are a dancer shooting a dancer, you have a decided advantage of knowing how the music is likely to control the movement. You will be able to anticipate choreography and be prepared for the dramatic pauses, the repeated phrases (and often repeated moves), and the poses. You may be tempted, therefore, to always wait for that perfect moment. If it is a slow piece or you are practiced at the craft, go for it. On the other hand, you are most likely shooting digitally, and you brought an extra memory card and battery, so why not get a little crazy? Many cameras have a burst mode which allows you to hold down the button and shoot repeatedly (Check that manual!). I wouldn’t recommend this for a whole performance, but spins, especially with veils are very hard to get-partly because the face is not in view for most of the spin and partly because very few people make a graceful face during the whole spin.
  8. Rule of Thirds
    While you’re caught up in the action it is easy to forget composition. When you’ve focused on the face and go to recompose, you may just be trying to get the dancer in the shot at all, but, with practice, you’ll be recomposing at lightning speeds. If you’re looking for a simple way to bring balance and interest to your composition, consider the rule of thirds. Imagine your photo folded into thirds in both directions and laid flat, giving you a grid of nine squares. If you place your subject on the lines of this virtual grid you will have something much more interesting than a centered straight on shot. If you manage to have a point of interest (eyes, hands, prop, etc) at an intersection of the lines, that’s a hot shot!
  9. Respect the Dancer
    Movement is beautiful. Dance movement is gorgeous. That instant you caught in the middle of a body wave where the chest is caved, the chin is down, and and the elbows are up is awkwardly funny looking at best. Even if the lighting is great, the colors are popping, and the photo has nothing technically wrong with it, consider the dancer first before posting it in a public forum. I see floods of unflattering photos of dancers. A simple edit job of throwing out the bad shots should always be the first thing you do after the shoot. Please respect the dancer you shot and only post your most flattering photos. We always judge ourselves the hardest, so if a dancer still untags herself on Facebook or asks you to remove a photo, don’t take it personally, just respectfully do so.
  10. Post Production
    In a world where everything has gone through an Instagram filter, I’m wary of encouraging post production. There are certain things though, that can make or break a photo. Cropping, slight contrast adjustment, correcting white balance, toning colors (especially when the dancer was under colored lights), and sharpening are excellent ways to enhance your photo without over-doing it. If you have not yet delved into the world of post production, I recommend Photoshop Elements as affordable place to begin. There is a significant learning curve with any new software, but try something new after each shoot and I think you’ll wonder how you lived without it. That big zit on the dancer’s face will be gone in the blink of an eye.


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