Dance photos: a few tips from me

I often get asked about dance photography tips, and I see lots of people dabbling with taking photos at events. So here are a few of my thoughts on it, and the things that I do when I shoot.

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Know your subject

If you’re a dancer, you’re already part way there. You have to be able to predict the movement of your subject in order to get the most striking shots. If you see a swing out, decide what beat you want to shoot on to get the pose. Think about the dance and think about where the dancers are moving and what shapes they will be creating. For example, if you see collegiate shag dancers doing collegiate kicks inwards, you know they’re likely to do them outwards very soon – predict the shape that is coming and prepare. You shouldn’t need people to do the same move over and over, if you’re really thinking about the way the partnership is working.

Avoid the spray and pray – this attitude is bad. Think about every shot you take, don’t just fire a shutter randomly and hope for the best. It makes you inefficient, you’ll simply have more to sort through later, and you’re relying on luck – not skill.

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Know your gear

You need to be able to work quickly and effectively. So make sure that you’re really familiar with the kit that you’re using. Try to be familiar enough so that you know what your focal length looks like and the distance you need to be from your subject without having to check through the lens, and you can change settings without having to take your eye away from the viewfinder. I also find it very helpful to know the precise and tiny amount of time between me pressing the button and the shutter firing – it allows me to be able to shoot on the beat, and time my shots more accurately.

Flash – throw it away, burn it, I don’t care, just don’t use it. I am notorious for hating flash being used at dance events. This is for several reasons:

  1. It makes you very noticeable. (I’ll come back to this later)
  2. You can see it on all performance/competition videos and it’s distracting.
  3. It’s often not even needed if the rest of your settings are correct.
  4. It washes out people’s complexions.
  5. Most people don’t use a modifier so it’s extremely harsh light. (If you do use flash PLEASE modify it to soften the light – and please work really hard on your technique with artificial light before you use it at a dance event.)
  6. Recycle times stop you being able to shoot continuously – think of fast swing outs, trying to get a shot on every one, you’ve not got a chance of getting a shot every time with a flashgun in tow.
  7. It makes it much harder to adapt to spotlights and unevenly lit venues.

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Read the light

When you get to the venue, do a lap, fire off some shots and look at what the light is like from every angle, decide where is best for you to shoot from. Keep an eye out for if the venue changes the light, or if the light is patchy on the floor. Figure out the settings you want and note how they’ll have to change depending on where you stand.

Don’t get in the way

The event isn’t about you as the photographer – it’s about the dancers. I believe that when I shoot, it should feel like there’s no photographer there at all. Hence, my no flashguns rule – firing a really bright light every couple of minutes is the best way to draw attention to yourself, as is getting on the dance floor and getting in the way. Of course, get right in the crowd in a jam circle, but generally, it’s really not great to have you just loitering on the floor.

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Copyright

Copyright is complex, but if you’re planning on posting your images anywhere you need to know about it. In short – the copyright of any photos taken at a dance event belongs to the photographer or the event organisers (if it has been given for them to have the copyright), so if you use someone’s image please ask first and make sure that you add image credits. Photographers, you are also entitled to ask someone to take one of your images down if they are using it without your permission – even if they saved it from Facebook.

Everyone else, making sure you ask for permission is so important because those images belong to someone, just like they were a physical, tangible thing. Also making sure you credit people means that their work gets recognised and people can discover them – it’s just the cool thing to do.

Look at others for inspiration

Every photographer brings something different to a set of images, so have a look at other people’s stuff for inspiration. Look at what they see that you don’t and how they approach the subject. I often look at people’s work such as Jessica Keener or Jerry Almonte. Their creativity keeps me working on different ways of approaching things.

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