How to Photograph the Essence of the Dance


To be able to convey the elements of dance in one single photograph can be a very difficult goal for any photographer because photography is mainly the capturing of unmoving images, while dance is the total opposite.  The art of photography should be able to convey a three dimensional perspective using a two dimensional plane. Time also plays an important part in dance. With all this to consider, how can a simple photograph of people or a person dancing hold such visual impact? In creating an ideal dance image, your photograph should be able to embody the magnificence of a dancer in mid-motion. The spectacle on stage is compounded with choreography and the essence of motion. Every movement that is expressed in every fraction of a moment during the performance is a photo opportunity for you. Many photographers throw in the towel after many attempts and getting blurry images. 

Here are some great tips on how to take fantastic dance photos:

Catch the motion – one of the most difficult tasks that the photographer might encounter is the constant movement of the dancers. Low lighting is possible since stage lighting is not enough to get sharp images. When the performance is going on, using a flash is usually not allowed because it can be distracting for the performers and the audience. Make sure that your digital camera has the capacity to shoot at high ISO of 1600 or more. If possible, make sure you are equipped with a lens that is 70mm-200mm for bigger aperture sizes of f/2.8 and below. It can be difficult to use zoom lenses with a stop down of f/4 or f/5.6 aperture so try to avoid using this. Even with adequate lighting, you may want to show some motion blur in your shots to portray the movement of the dancers. A relatively slow shutter speed such as 1/20 sec can show movement trails while leaving parts of the scene sharp enough to be recognizable. The best way to know the right settings would be to experiment and settle on the exposure adjustments that work best.

Know how to shoot and focus within a split second – with constant movement happening during the performance, capturing the right moment can be difficult. Due to the lag time of the shutter mechanism of all cameras. Shutter lag is the length of time between the clicking of the shutter button to when the shutter actually opens and closes. Although this might only be a fraction of a second, it is enough for you to lose a valuable opportunity. Bear in mind that there could be two reasons for the delay. For one, the autofocus system might need some time to adjust to the distance of the subject as well as gauge the focus to match this distance. Second, digital cameras need some time to assess any available light to be able to get the right settings for shutter speed and aperture to get the appropriate exposure. The camera measures these two actions each time you press the shutter. Make sure that the camera you use can quickly focus and lock unto a subject. If you have the budget, you can check out a lens that is capable of ultrasonic motor (USM) which would be ideal for catching quick movements.

Focus manually – with low-lighting situations, it is oftentimes not advisable to rely on autofocus. The great advantage in capturing dance images is that the subjects dance on stage. This assures you that there is a specific distance between you and the stage. This way you can effectively manually focus. A common term for this is a photojournalist’s working mode. You can do this by disabling the focus from the shutter and put it on a varying button located at the back portion of the camera. With constant practice, you will get the hang of this. As long as the distance between the camera and the performers are constant, all you have to do is adjust your focus on the performer, get a few photographs in, and then adjust your focus yet again for the next series of shots. 

Preset your aperture and shutter speed – by setting the aperture and shutter speed to manual mode before your shoot, you can get rid of auto-exposure delay. Usually you can use a shutter speed of 1/60 sec for relatively slower dance performances and 1/125 sec for faster performances. If you use a shutter speed slower than 1/60 sec you will most definitely get blurry images. Try to use different types of aperture until you find the right exposure and do not forget to check the exposure indicator for that. For low lighting scenarios, the camera’s indicator will tell you that the image is underexposed even at a time that the aperture is wide open. Here you will have to adjust your ISO to a higher level. Some DSLR cameras can still produce sharp images even if the ISO is set up to 1600. Remember that as you increase your ISO, the grainier your images will be, or the more you will have digital noise. That is why it is always advantageous to invest in good quality DSLR cameras when you would start to encounter these types of problems with an ISO at 3200.

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