Tag Archives: Dance photography

Some Photos I can Share!

Funny story: I haven’t been able to blog about photography even though I’ve been shooting almost every day, because it’s work-for-hire and the images are not mine to share. There are some interesting stories I will share one day (the movie star who greeted me with a big smile and reached out to shake my hand, saw the camera, and withdrew his hand in disgust), but in the meantime, I still get the pleasure of photographing Nordhoff High School’s dance performances.

I shot the dance show on two nights; once with the D7100 and once with the D610. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, but each offers image quality absolutely up to the task. I would have used the D7100 exclusively because of its superior focusing system, but the cropped sensor was not a good match for my position at the venue; you won’t usually hear me complain about being too close, but the 70-200 didn’t let me go wide enough for ensemble shots until I switched to the D610.

The music in this video is not from the performance; it’s just an important song about the roles of women and girls in our society, and as the father of a daughter it rattles me every time I hear it. It’s called Ophelia, by Natalie Merchant.

Oh, and I still get to photograph birds in my backyard:

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Looking forward to a lot more shooting and blogging in the coming year, as well as a blog redesign for better organization. I hope you’ll join me.

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Filed under Camera Gear, Dance and Theater

Dance Concert D7100 vs. D610

Night One. D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

Night One. D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

Last December I shot a dance concert with the D610, and while I got some very nice shots, I was disappointed with the focusing system and made a note to try the D7100 next time. Well, next time happened earlier this month.

D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

These concerts are always both stressful and fun. I’m not sure there’s any focusing system that would be optimal in these circumstances, but the D7100 definitely did a better job than the D610, and I got well over 150 keepers from the first performance. But you know what? I just couldn’t leave well enough alone.

D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

While I was over-processing, pixel-peeping, and over-analyzing images from night one, I decided that I had sacrificed dynamic range and low-light capability by choosing the D7100. I resolved to shoot night two with the D610. It’s a good thing I got most of what I needed on night one.

Night two. Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

Night two. Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8. Well exposed and out of focus.

Now don’t get me wrong. I got some good shots with the D610, but it was more of a crap shoot, focus wise. I knew that I was trading focus acuity for lower noise at higher ISOs, but I was surprised at what a bad trade it turned out to be. There are several factors at work here: 1) the D610 doesn’t focus as well as the D7100 in low light, 2) the full frame sensor produces less depth of field at the same aperture, 3) the full frame sensor also required me to use the lens at its extreme end of 200mm, where it is less likely to be sharp than in the middle of its range. (I haven’t tested this, but it’s a plausible hypothesis). Whatever the reason, the images were not as sharp as often, and that was a shame, because the dynamic range and high ISO were visibly better.

As I say, I got most of what I needed at the first performance, and the teacher is happy with the 198 images I delivered. This experience reminds me to carefully choose the right tool for the task at hand. One week after the dance concerts I did a studio shoot with the D610 and cannot imagine a better camera for the job (blog to come).

So the very good news is that I got to see these magnificent dance performances, make some very nice photos, and learn something important about my cameras. Win, win, win.

Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Filed under Camera Gear, Dance and Theater, Low Light

A Sort of Progress

141211-Nordhoff DanceDSC_8909-3

A lot of things didn’t go right during my most recent opportunity to photograph dance, but the better images show improvement in exposure. For years, I was so committed to recovering shadow detail that I consistently overexposed dance images. Now I’m trying harder to make peace with the shadows, and I’m finding some success. Still a lot of variables to control, but this is going to help. I shot using matrix metering and -.7 exposure compensation, but I still had to bring down the highlights quite a bit in Lightroom. Usually, there was detail to be recovered in the highlights, so -.7 might be a good safe compromise in this situation.141211-Nordhoff DanceDSC_9170 141211-Nordhoff DanceDSC_9234 141211-Nordhoff DanceDSC_9307 141211-Nordhoff DanceDSC_9385 141211-Nordhoff DanceDSC_9553 141211-Nordhoff DanceDSC_9636 141211-Nordhoff DanceDSC_9639

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Filed under Dance and Theater

Great Gear, Bad Decisions

Matrix metering really doesn't know what to do in a situation like this. It's up to us to manage exposure.

Matrix metering really doesn’t know what to do in a situation like this. It’s up to us to manage exposure, but we need the right tools to do so.

It’s confession time. After the frustrations of the December dance concert, I traded in one of my D7000 bodies for a D610, believing a full-frame camera would finally deliver the high ISO performance needed for dance.

Like many of my recent purchase decisions, this one turned out to be the right horse in the wrong race. The D610 is a marvelous camera that improves many of my images, but it does not solve my dance performance problems. Continue reading

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

Raising My Standards Means Actually Applying What I Know

My favorite image - of 2,700!

My favorite image – of 2,700!

So here’s the thing: As much as I enjoy being a lazy, disorganized, impatient photographer, I may have to compromise my principles to make uncompromising photographs. That is to say, I may have to become less lazy, more organized, and patient. Maybe. When I started reviewing thousands of images to build a portfolio, I realized that most of my work does not live up to the criteria I would use to judge another’s photos. I must demand excellence from myself in composition, lighting, and moment.  And under these standards, two out of three AIN’T GOOD. Instead of building a portfolio, I built a much bigger reject bin.

And this is great news, because now editing is EASY! If an image doesn’t meet all three criteria, out it goes, and I don’t spend hours in post trying to make bad pictures look good. This does not apply to event documentation, where I sometimes have to share mediocre pictures that are good records. But otherwise, it’s hammer time, and that means that forty-plus years in, I need to get a little more serious about learning photography.

And I have a lot of lessons from this weekend, when I shot 2,700 frames at a dance concert. In future posts, I’m going to write about my travails related to dynamic range, pixel density, focus performance, and a host of gear-related challenges and solutions, but today I want to talk about the simplest way to improve our photos – simple but not always easy. And you’ve heard it a thousand times before: Get closer.

Here is one of my favorite dance images, which I made at a Santa Barbara City College (SBCC) rehearsal in 2010:

What makes this image different from most of my dance images? Actually, it's not "what," it's "where."

What makes this image different from most of my dance images? Actually, it’s not “what,” it’s “where.”

And here is a “good enough” document from this weekend that doesn’t meet my criteria as a photograph:

My old nemesis, compression.

My old nemesis: Compression.

Long focal lengths and distance to subject produce a compression effect. A 200mm lens, used from the very back of the theater, compresses foreground and background, making the image look less three-dimensional.  That can be a great effect for a lot of subjects, but with multiple dancers on stage, I’d prefer a sense of depth. For the SBCC image, where you can clearly feel the distance between the dancers, I was seated in the front row – at stage level – using a 17-55 f/2.8 lens. Note that we’re not talking about depth of field here, because the dancers in the background appear pretty sharp, but you still get a sense of depth.

There is no question in my mind that I make better dance photos when I am closer to the stage, but it simply isn’t possible most of the time, since audiences don’t like someone standing in front of them, clicking incessently. Knowing this, I look for opportunities like the image at the top of this post, where compression does not appear to distort the image, but probably helps it.

Next time, I’ll explore how I somehow managed to increase both my keeper rate and my frustration during this weekend’s dance concerts. It was all worth it.

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Filed under Camera Gear, Composition, Dance and Theater, Lighting, Professional vs. Amateur