A New Angle on Dance

Positioned fifteen feet from the dancers, I was able to capture more natural dimensionality than I usually get from 100+ feet away.

As I reported yesterday, I usually photograph dance during actual performances with audiences, but yesterday I had the opportunity to shoot a dress rehearsal. That meant that instead of shooting from the back of the theater, I was able to set up front row center. Instead of using my 70-200 telephoto zoom, I shot with my 17-55 wide-angle zoom. Here are my first impressions.

As expected, the closer working distance reduced lens compression and produced a more pleasing relationship between foreground and background. As it happened, the front row in this particular theater was stage level.  In other theaters I’ve worked, the front row is below stage level and I fear the distortion will be most unflattering to the people on stage, since it will enlarge the lower portions of their bodies. Nevertheless, I’m now convinced that I will have to find ways to shoot dance and theater from much closer distances than I have used in the past.

Had I shot this from my usual position with a long lens, the dancers would have seemed much closer together - unnaturally so.

Of course, my position did not change the fact that the lighting was out of my control.  In most cases, the contrast was far beyond the dynamic range of my camera, with bright, gelled lights hitting white outfits on dancers against a dark background. Thus, post-processing was an exercise in compromises, as I tried to balance noise, highlights and shadows.

The film running behind the dancers was not rear-projection, so it threw unexpected light onto the dancers. Even so, it was much darker than the hot stage lights hitting the dancers' white dresses.

All images were shot with a Nikon D300 and Nikon 17-55 f2.8 lens.  ISO was set to Auto with an upper limit of 1600, which it usually hit. Otherwise, I used manual exposure between 1/160 and 1/320 of a second and f2.8 or f3.2.  A lot of the blown highlights were reds caused by bright amber-gelled lights. To see more images from this exercise, visit my smugmug gallery.

I got some pretty good performance images, but this is my favorite picture of the night, because it tells an important but rarely considered story of the dancer's world.


Filed under Camera Gear, Camera Settings, Dance and Theater, Post Processing

2 responses to “A New Angle on Dance

  1. Very nice work. Did you shoot raw or jpegs?

    I think you’re on to something with that last shot. While the rehearsal dance shots get you the coverage you need, I bet you could tell some great stories shooting non-performance images backstage during the actual show.

    • For the first half of the evening, I shot jpegs. Then, when I realized that the lighting was just too bonkers, I switched to RAW. Still, once I apply Noise Ninja in Aperture, I lose a lot of the RAW file’s latitude. As usual, the theater and dance images provide documentation for the teachers. I still haven’t figured out how to make something of my own with them.

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