This guest post is by Visithra Manikam is a photographer based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Dance has been one of my favorite subjects to shoot and I’m particularly fond of shooting live performances but they’re not the easiest to shoot. There’s myriad expressions, body language, hand gestures and fast movements to keep you busy.
Planning and knowledge helps to make a dance performance shots look extraordinary. So how is a live dance performance different from shooting a music concert and what should you look out for?
Auditoriums, community halls, small function rooms each have different space and restrictions to work around. So arrive early and plan your shoot with the organizer if possible. Or, find a seat with a good shooting range. Check out the stage light settings so you can gauge where the light will fall.
The No Flash Rule
Usually we’re requested not to use flash, even if it’s an off body set up as it may distract the dancers. Unless you’re doing motion blur shots of the dancers, use a higher ISO so that you can shoot at a reasonable shutter speed as dancers are usually quick and swift on their feet. Plus unless you have a light set up on the stage it’s totally useless to shoot with a flash from a seated auditorium setting. Do remember moving right up at the stage may just get you doused by rotten eggs [grin]
Pick A Strategic Spot
You’re usually requested to shoot from one location throughout the duration of the event as to not distract the audience. So again arrive early and pick a good spot to station yourself without blocking others. I know I keep repeating this but it really matters. Sometimes you may encounter other photographers who block everyone’s view by standing, so try to get them to politely move or just get up and move because it can be impossible to explain to someone they’re a disturbance.
A technically perfect shot is useless if the photo is caught at the wrong time. Hand gestures, expressions and body movement play a big part in getting a good photo. A dancer usually holds a pose only for a few seconds and sometimes executes a dozen poses and movements in less than 30 seconds. So unless you have knowledge of the style of dance, watch and time your clicks so that you get the right shots. A shot of a dancer’s hands in between a pose would just look clumsy and no dancer would want that. Read any information you can on the dance style beforehand so you can anticipate their moves.
Your photos can he helped or hurt depending on how good the lighting crew are. If they’re fond of flashing different colored lights on the dancer you’re going to have white balance issues with funky colored photos. Work with the situation and try to correct your white balance during the shoot rather than once you’re back as editing those images can be a pain. I’m always shooting events where the lighting crew love to flash red during an angry expression scene – problem is red drowns out the expression so much sometimes I just wanted to strangle the crew [grin]
Keep them clean, so plan your location based on what’s on the background. Community hall performances tend to have a lot of decorations and words in the background, so try to minimize their appearance in the shot as it will be distracting. You can of course use them to your advantage in some cases.
If they are prominent and stream out interesting ray trails, use them in your compositions. It will give your shoots an added edge. By switching your angles and compositions according to the dance movements you can help dramatise your shots using these lights.
Don’t forget to watch the performance while you’re getting the photos, dance can inspire you in your other photography work. Watch their minute expressions and body movement to incorporate into your other photography work.
So plan ahead and brush up on your dance knowledge and you’ll be getting the shots in no time.
Manee Authi says
Excellent advise an a great article. Thanks for sharing!
Loved the 5th photo. Great use of light.
Jigar Champaneria says
Lovely photos and great overview of the key things which make performance photography so unique. I've only photographed of a couple of bharat natyam arangetrams, but I must say that doing it well and with creativity is a real challenge. I was mentally exhausted at the intermission due to trying to capture so many poses, movements, and expressions. I've photoged a few bollywood/bhangra type performances as well and while it's less mentally challenging, the colored lighting used makes that a real challenge too. Great work and I look forward to going through your portfolio!
Victor Augusteo says
thanks for the nice tips Visithra.
I’ve only shot one dance performance to be featured in a magazine. it was a different experience from what I usually do. My speedlight died in the middle of the shoot, possibly from shooting too much? so I ended up shooting wide open with high-ISO. the result was still nice though.
one thing you might be able to do in my situation is to shoot burst mode and hope that other photographer’s flash blitz the same time as you open your shutter :P
btw, this is the full story: http://j.mp/cQznH9
keep up the good work!
Thanks everyone for reading the post, and to Seshu for posting it up, apologies for the late reply as I’ve been busy with travels.
Jigar Champaneria: thanks ;)
yes there’s usually a lot going on so it can be mentally exhausting hence why the last point to stop and watch. The coloured lighting is very challenging and really makes no sense but its something we have to face.
5600k : Thanks ;)
Manee Authi: thanks ;) glad you enjoyed it
Scott Webb says
So much color and the lighting at performances really helps for photo capture. I really love the mood and advice from how good the lighting crew is or can be, to considering your location, and the set location/backgrounds.
Great tips to consider for some performance events coming up this summer for me.