A crowded stage presents numerous challenges to the theater and dance photographer. Obviously, cluttered compositions deprive the viewer of a clear subject, and as I’ve mentioned many times on this blog, the law of permutations decrees that the greater the number of people in a picture, the higher the probability that the photographer will capture at least one ghastly expression. Dance offers particular challenges, as illustrated below.
The Amputation Problem: In addition to the difficulty of separating the subject from the background, a crowded stage also guarantees that almost any crop will result in severed limbs.
The Mutant Problem: Three- and four-legged dancers appear frequently. This one has an uncommonly long right forearm. Paging Professor Xavier.
The Ever-So-Slightly-Out-of-Sync Problem. Even two can be a crowd. Cut in half, this is a nice photo of either dancer. Together, the differences in the position of their legs and feet for this 1/400 of a second become glaring (at least to my wife - I didn't notice until she mentioned it).
The Rogue Tralfamadorian Problem. This is not what it looks like, except that in a photograph, how would you know that? I get a couple hundred shots like this at each dance event. Immediate rejects, because I'm not going to spend hours photoshopping people's crotches.
The Other Rogue Tralfamadorian Problem: Believe me, it only gets worse.
The Where Do I Look Problem: This is the basic clutter challenge. There are a lot of potentially interesting things going on in this photo, but there is no clear focal point.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing inherently wrong with ensemble pieces and crowded stages – even for a photographer. It’s a great relief to photograph individual dancers because I know where to point the camera, but the resulting images sometimes lack context and dynamism – even when they feature a leap. Dancers together make marvelous photos. But it’s a lot of work.
When working distance, depth of field, number of subjects, quality of light and decisive moment come together, I like the results very much.
When it works, it works.
Of course, with a compelling enough subject, the crowd actually contributes to the composition's power. By the way, Mr. Hoj is an excellent history teacher because he intuitively understands the four competencies of leadership, the first of which is: Manage Attention.