I planned to work in close to the dancers. I wouldn’t get whole bodies in context, which I think is important when photographing performance, but with luck I could use depth of field to minimize distracting backgrounds and get a nice sense of subject isolation. I thought it would be a good look for a rehearsal venue.
Back in my corporate days, we were fond of telling managers there was no point in planning their work if they did not work their plan. Wish I’d listened to myself…
I arrived an hour early for an all-day dance shoot so I could think through the angles. Just like last year, I was going to shoot rehearsals for Dancing With The Ojai Stars, but this year I’d get all the teams on one day in one room. Nice! So I studied the room, and I studied last year’s shots from that room, and decided on two important criteria for making good shots: 1) work from the east and west sides of the room for the least distracting backgrounds, and work in close to the dancers for the stronger subjects and fuzzier backgrounds.
But in photography, as in war, the best laid plans go to hell as soon as the first shot is fired.
Shot from the west side of the room, in close with a wide angle lens, this was the sort of shot I imagined when planning my day.
Yet somehow, I ended up shooting from the north side of the room, because the dancers inevitably wanted to face the mirrors on that wall while rehearsing. This left me facing the busiest background, and too far from the dancers to minimize depth of field.
With dancers I had shot before, I felt comfortable asking them to stage shots. And I was confident they could leap close to me without kicking me in the head.
Here is a clear illustration of the background issue. For this shot I am pressed against the north wall (mirrors), forced to include the desks and bulletins of the teachers’ area….
…and here is a shot from the center of the dance floor, facing east. The same dancers in a similar position, but a completely different photograph.
Ultimately, I think the failure to work my plan was not as important as my overall lack of practice shooting dancers. Even with my past notes available, I didn’t have my timing or know my lenses and angles well enough to find the shots I wanted.
Should I ever get into a dance studio to make my own photographs, they’ll be closer to this… And yes, of course I imagine myself as the mysterious man at the bar in the Stetson Stratoliner hat, attracting the attention of the dancing woman and her dangerous partner.
Fortunately, the solution to all my photography woes is more photography. I’ll be shooting the performance of Dancing with the Ojai Stars next month, and I intend to be ready.