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How to take great dance photos

15th April 2018

In this guest post, our professional photographer shares his top tips anyone can try to take great photos of your dance show...

People sometimes ask me, “how can I take great pictures of my dance show"?

My reply will always be:

It's all in the timing.

And it is.

Everyone who photographs people will agree that what you're looking for is that 'decisive moment', as Henri Cartier-Bresson called it.

Get that, you've got a winning shot.


Well, in principle it is.

But like all simple things, it takes practice (and a couple of other things) to get it right. The first thing is too obvious to mention, so I will:

It's your camera.

Is it a point-and-shoot, or is it a professional beast? The first is unlikely to cut it, and the second may be overkill.

But, (and it's an important but), the better the camera, the more likely you are to get good images.

You can get good quality used pro or semi-pro cameras for the same price as a much lower specification new camera.

So go for a good oldie.

You'll be shooting moving people in low light levels, even when it seems to be a brightly lit stage. So you need a camera with a high ISO capability, 1000 or so. This tends to produce more 'noisy' images, so a larger sensor (the bit of the camera that records the image) is better. One with around 20 Mega Pixels is ideal, though a good oldie with a 12 MP full sized sensor will still deliver great results.

It needs to have a good quality, versatile lens because (as I said) you'll be taking moving people in low light levels. And you'll want to get close-ups as well as the whole stage. So a zoom lens with a range of 25 - 200 or more would be good.

If you go for a longer lens, then get one with image stabilisation. This will help you get sharp images of moving people in low light at a distance.

And you will be working at a distance.

You can't expect a dancer to execute a perfect arabesque exactly in front of you in the middle of a routine. So keep back and use the long lens.

You've got the gear, now get the idea.

The best time to get great shots is during a show.

Everything is at its best - the performers, their hair, their make-up, the costumes, the lighting. The second best time is during the dress rehearsal.

So do both.

The idea is that before the actual show, you look, and you listen. And you practise.

Look at the number of dancers in each scene, their ages, their costumes. You look at the routines, you listen to the music, you note if there are strong shapes created and where they come in the music. Are they repeated? Are there solos? Is there a big ending? Does the lighting give you a great atmospheric shot?

And one huge advantage of being at the dress rehearsal is that you'll be able to go on the stage - as long as you keep out of the dancers' way - and get angles and details you won't get during the show. Also, they might repeat a sequence, which gives you another bite of that cherry.

Go for the detail.

Take shots of the dancers' hair: they will have put a lot of effort into getting it looking good for the show. Same for their costumes. Someone put a lot of effort into sourcing great costumes (hopefully from Costume Source!).

The dancers feel proud and look great.

So photograph them!

It all helps to emphasise the high standards that the school delivers.

Practise following a dancer through the camera. Then you can press the shutter in mid-move.

If the dancer is jumping or leaping, remember that there is a moment, a really brief moment, when they are not moving. That is when they are at the top of their jump. They've finished going up, and haven't started coming down.

That's when you take the shot.

That's the decisive moment.

Bend your knees, get down low.

Low viewpoints are far more dramatic, and leaps are more impressive and look higher if you and your camera are flat on the floor.

If you finish the shoot without having dusty knees and a stiff neck from looking up, you haven't been trying. I'm sorry, but you really haven't been trying.

At the end of each set, as they take their bow, the dancers' faces will be full of pride and joy.

So you take close-ups of their smiling faces.

The same at the final curtain.

All that gloss, all that glitter, all that razzmatazz.

That look of success.

Yet another decisive moment.

And the more decisive moments you capture, the better.

Girts is a professional photographer with over 40 years experience. His award-winning photographs have been published around the world and used for advertising campaigns, on book covers, in magazines and much more. He now runs 2minty where he sells fine art photographs as well as other fantastic handmade crafts.

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