Dance! Capturing The Art

While I may not necessarily be that fond of Texas (I’m a Montana mountain gal), I willingly admit that living in this state has afforded me some great opportunities to make the acquaintance of and photograph some very interesting people:

Entertainers out at the Texas Renaissance Festival such as the Gypsy Dance Theatre,

various performers within the King’s Feasthall at the Texas Renaissance Festival such as The Cannibal Tudors,

and performers with the Colombian Orchid Ballet.

I enjoy photographing dancers working their magic, but capturing a dance image can be a tricky task.  For me, it’s mainly because the lighting is not always optimal, and during those times when the lighting is pretty decent, the stage setting may not be the prettiest.  I would love to try photographing performances of the Houston Ballet and downtown Hobby Center musicals – especially since I don’t use flash – but the ushers are eagle-eyed and I would rather be able to enjoy the performance sans camera than risk being kicked out of a show for which I paid alot of money.

So, how do I capture the art of the dance?  In addition to aperture, shutter speeds, and ISO adjustments, I also use the rules about which I have written in previous posts:

5 Rules of Photography In No Particular Order

A Few More “Rules” Of Photography (To Be Followed Or Not)

Following are some images I’ve captured over the past 3 years with tips on how I took them as well as other tidbits you may or may not find interesting.

The photo below is of Soraya during the fire dance performance of the Gypsy Dance Theatre out at the TX Renaissance Festival.  For this image and the fire dance image shown near the beginning of this post, I used my Canon 85mm f1.8 lens (I’ve since traded it in for the Canon 85mm L lens, but this 1.8 lens is a good lens – light and easy to handle and produces wonderful images).  I used a high ISO of 5000 in order to get some faster shutter speeds (this one used a shutter speed of 400).  While the photo looks like night, the actual surrounding area was more like dusk, so the trick of using a high ISO in order to apply some really fast shutter speeds is a trick that rodeo photographer John Hamilton uses for his fantastic daylight rodeo action images.  I didn’t even have to use any noise-reduction software to these images.  Soraya’s dance was slow, so it was easy to capture some nice clear shots.

I used a Canon 17-40mm lens and a less-fast ISO and shutter speed (1000, 1/125) for this shot of Florita and her fire arcs.  She moved around a bit more, and what I ended up doing was just holding down on the shutter release button and letting the camera click, click, click; I do this alot, actually, when photographing dancers – with both IS and non-IS lenses – because I am generally assured of at least one nice, clear image out of the series.  I cropped out extraneous crowds.  Most of the dance photos I have captured are usually against less-than-desirable backgrounds.  Just the nature of the location.

His character name is Istan Bull-kebobs and he was one of the acting cast members in the King’s Feast show back in 2009 at the Texas Renaissance Festival.  A former Houston ballet dancer, this young man was wonderful to watch (how often does the King’s Feast get a real live ballet dancer in its midst??)  Photographing him was realllly difficult.  The lighting in the Feast Hall sucks photographically.  Oh, if I had used flash, it wouldn’t have been so bad, but I HATE using flash in that place.  The light is harsh, it bugs the hell out of the performers and the Feast patrons, and it elicits icky shadows.  So, I used an ISO of 1500 with a 24-105mm lens at a shutter speed of 1/30 and aperture of f4 and held down on the shutter release.  In retrospect, I should have used a higher ISO with that lens so I could have gotten a bit of a faster shutter (although I would have had to apply more noise reduction).  I made it my mission throughout that renfaire season to attempt a relatively clear capture of Istan dancing, and I managed to pull off a couple of winners.

The fan dancing image below was taken at the 2010 Graduate International Culture Night at Rice University in Houston.  The stage setting for these wonderful dances was terrible – an awful background for photography.  And the lighting sucked – basically it was provided by a couple of colorful strobes.  I used a Canon 70-200 telephoto (with IS, since the photos I took that night were all hand held), and ISO of 6400, shutter speed of 1/80, and an aperture of f2.8.  The resulting photos definitely needed noise reduction applied.  And in the case of this photo, I cropped the image in order for the viewer to focus more on the lovely dancers (I’ve included the before- and after-cropped images)

Below is Gypsy Dance Theatre performer Soraya and her snake in the King’s Feasthall of the TX Renfest, using my Canon 50mm (f1.4) prime at an ISO if 1600, shutter speed of 1/60 and aperture of 2.5

Below is a new-age dance performance by Top Cat Dance during the Houston Fringe Festival (a performing arts festival) at the Hope Stone Center.  I managed to get one single decent image of this particular dance because the only light source I had was the black light used in this performance.  No tripod because the movement was constant (I’ve never used a tripod for any of my dance shots).  Lens: 70-200, ISO 6400, shutter speed 1/80, aperture f2.8.  Focusing was a bitch.  Noise-reduction software applied.

Below is a demonstration of Cumbia (a Colombian dance) by the Colombian Orchid Ballet in Houston’s Rice University student center.  I cropped this image because I wanted to focus on principal dancer Dalila.  I also wanted to eliminate as much of the less-than-desireable background as possible.  As usual, lighting was not the best, I did not use a tripod, and movement was constant, so I held down on the shutter button and used a high ISO.  This image I also converted to monochrome, as you can see below.  I like the use of monochrome with people and with landscapes because black & white is wonderful at showing the subtle nuances of light, shadow, and texture – stuff that color images don’t always delineate as well.

Ah, now the lighting in the photos below was prime, but the stage setting sucked and sometimes it was just not worth it to try and clone out the crap (although I did managed to clone out some intrusive microphones – and this was prior to Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill).  This image and the other two below were taken at the Houston iFest during a performance of the Colombian Orchid Ballet.  They demonstrated the Cumbia, along with some wonderfully energetic dances featuring the Marimondas and El Hombre Caiman (Colombian Folkloric dancing).

The image with the hand prints on the background was taken in a large ball-room area of the Rice University Student Center.  Lighting was better than usual, but still not optimal.  I like this image, but it may be a little bit too “busy”.  I try to stick (more or less) to a photographic rule which I didn’t list in either of my posts:  simplicity.  That rule is totally optional, and it’s probably not even a “rule”.

These next images were taken during the Houston Fringe Festival mentioned above.  The Colombian Orchid Ballet performed at two different venues on two different evenings.  This venue was at the Houston Met Dance Center.  For that evening, I was all dressed up nice and pretty (I always try to put forth a professional appearance, although I was probably over dressed for this one event as it was during a Houston summer).  The venue was a large gymnasium.  I discovered a series of stairs leading up to a dilapidated balcony overlooking the performances and I made full use of my 70-200 and 24-105mm lenses.  The balcony was used for storage and I had to watch my step in my heels.  Oh, and it was sweltering up there!  I captured not only the Colombian Orchid Ballet, but also another new-agey sort of dance company whose name I cannot remember.

So there you have it – my attempts at capturing the art of Dance.  For the most part, I’ve been successful in capturing some pretty good images.  And I’ve had some wonderful models with whom to work.  Maybe my information will give you the impetus to go out there and try your hand at dance photography.


Filed under dance, Photography

2 responses to “Dance! Capturing The Art

  1. An amazing array of images – despite the difficult lighting, and the low shutter speeds, you’ve captured some beautiful movements here. I rather liked how you explained how you got these images.