10 Secrets of Dance Photography
Dr P K M Pillai reveals some simple, effective secrets for making great photographs of dance and performing art forms on stage.
Dance performances happen in every religion, culture and in places all over India. These are great opportunities to make good pictures and to hone your skills. There are a variety of situational problems that you are bound to encounter. Yet, following a few simple practices can ensure that even your first attempt gets you some fantastic results.
1. Know the Dance Form
Practised, repeated movements and expressions are a part of any dance performance. In a dance, fluid motion often ends in static, momentary poses. If you know when and how the action will occur, you will be better prepared to capture it. It always helps to have seen the dance form on television, at other live shows, or during the onstage dress rehearsals.
2. Get Permissions Well in Advance
Dress rehearsals give you the chance to shoot without the constraints that accompany the actual performance. After the rehearsal, you can request the dancer to enact a posture or an expression. Backstage, the drama before the dress rehearsals is not just exciting, but offers an unlimited variety of pictures.
3. Master your Equipment
Inside an auditorium, the dim lights will not allow you to see the camera controls. You need to preset your camera according to the expected conditions and know your gear well enough to change settings quickly, in the dark.
4. Know the Capabilities of your Lens
A standard zoom lens is great for capturing group performances. You will need focal lengths of 200mm for full length shots. You may require lenses up to 300mm for capturing facial expressions. Be prepared for problems associated with the kind of lenses that you have, from shallow depth-of-field to non-availability of large apertures, to camera shake caused by the weight of your lens. A light tripod or a monopod is always a great help.
5. The Vantage Point is Crucial
Choose your position well to avoid distractions like banners and stage lights entering your lens, which may happen despite the use of a lens hood. A low vantage point from the foot of the stage can help avoid these distractions and heighten the mood in your pictures. If you can get permission to shoot from the wings of the stage, it will give your pictures a perspective that none in the audience would have seen.
6. Coping with Low Light
Flash photography is usually prohibited because it disturbs the artists. In this situation, large aperture lenses are useful. Do not be afraid to boost the ISO to get the required shutterspeed. Even images shot at ISO 3200 can give you good looking, medium-sized prints.
7. Shoot in RAW, Use Shutter Priority
It is more important to time yourself and release the shutter at the perfect moment rather than bother about technicalities. In the Shutter Priority mode, you only need to control the shutterspeed. Use Center Weighted or Spot metering, if your camera allows you to. Leave settings like ISO and WB to Auto. Shoot in RAW to recover details while postprocessing.
8. Poetic Blurs or Frozen Action?
Sharpness is vital in pictures where you want to show the delicacy of an expression or a posture, or the energy of a dancer in midair. Shutterspeeds of 1/250sec or faster can help freeze the action. On the other hand, you can use shutterspeeds from 1–1/20sec for creative blurs that capture the sheer beauty of the dancer’s movement. Blurs work better if the performers are wearing colourful costumes and if the background is dark.
9. Movement, Expressions and Form
Great dancers experience ‘moments of truth’. As a photographer, keep in mind the three cornerstones of dance—movement, expressions and form, while you concentrate on capturing these moments of sheer joy and abandon.
10. More than Appreciate… Know!
Finally, the best photographs come from knowing and feeling the passion and obsession that drives the artists to spend decades in perfecting their art.
The photographs on these pages were all captured at two live performances, using an old 6-megapixel Nikon D70s, with a Sigma 28–135mm f/3.8-5.6 lens. Almost any camera can do a good job if you use it well. Dance photography sharpens your sense of timing and the speed with which you react. More than this, it teaches you to appreciate the poetry of the human body.
Using a Compact
Knowing how your camera responds is important. Due to the slower AF, prefocus the camera and then release the shutter at just the right moment. Ensure that you take shutter lag into account. You can use the Night Landscape Mode for blurs and the Sports Mode for freezing action.
Tags: april 2012, Astad Debo, classical dance, Dance movements, Dance Photography, Dr P K M Pillai, Kathak, NCPA, Shooting Technique