Leaping Beauty, Part 3: What I Might Do Differently Next Time

A brief conversation with Barbara helped me understand that my ignorance of dance is a significant obstacle to my development as a dance photographer.

Overall, I am happy with this year’s graduating dancers photo session. As a former Kinko’s executive, I am a little concerned that these higher-contrast images will not reproduce well in a xerographically produced concert program, but I guess we’ll see.

I like the black background and more dramatic lighting, but if the teacher asks me to go back to last year’s set-up, or recommends another approach altogether, that’s what I’ll do. These pictures are for her, not me.

But, assuming that these are satisfactory, here are some things I might do differently next time:

Use a portable DVD player as an external monitor, so I can better manage details while shooting. A nice seven or nine-inch screen would help me see things I didn’t always notice this time, such as the tilted horizon line, skewed perspective, inadequate background separation, stray hair, costume malfunctions, etc. A larger monitor would also come in handy at other sessions, for reviewing images with models in real time.

This young lady was very concerned about the precise position of her arms. With a bigger external monitor, we would have seen such details more easily during the shoot.

My backdrop was not big enough, much to my surprise. I don’t want to invest in bigger backdrops, since I use them infrequently, so perhaps we could try a natural environment outdoors. Or, it might be fun to turn the dance studio into a “set,” using the dance program’s barres, pads, costumes, lockers and mirrors as backgrounds. I’ll need to carefully control depth of field, but I think that could be a lot of fun if we manage the clutter. Naturally, if any reader wants to buy me one of Nikon’s defocus-control lenses, I’ll humbly accept the gift.

I like the black background, but when we present fifteen or thirty images like this, it gets a bit stark. Plus, robbing a dancer of context sometimes robs the image of purpose. When I submit dance photos like this for club critique, the judge usually says, "nicely executed, but so what?"

Bring flags, grids, softboxes and snoots to better sculpt the light. If we go with a more complex background next time, I’ll need to better control where every bit of light is going. One cannot always achieve the narrow depth of field one desires, but one can use shadows to deemphasize backgrounds.

I wasn't fully prepared to photograph a dark-haired dancer in a dark outfit against a black background. With my grids, snoots, and flags on hand, I could have sculpted light around her and away from the background. Presuming I had time to do so.

The most important lesson from this year’s shoot has nothing to do with photography per se. A dancer named Barbara asked if she should do a “bghfrt” or a “prhnb.” At least, she may as well have asked that, because I had no idea what she was talking about. Barbara was surprised that after years of photographing dancers, I hadn’t learned anything about dance. I explained that no one ever talked to me; I just shot. She offered to teach me, and I intend to take her up on it. My dance photography hero, Richard Calmes, ranks his knowledge of dance as the most important element in his success. I consider his photos the ideal to which I aspire, so I ought to take his advice, eh?

I like this moment, but it's not the moment she and I were trying to catch. With a better knowledge of dance, I could time my shots more accurately, and I could review images with a better sense of proper form. I want the dancers to be happy with the images, so I need to understand their goals.

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Filed under Composition, Dance and Theater, Lighting

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