Capture the Moment: Shooting Dance Performances

by: Ian Teraoka

It’s almost Body Rock, which means that people are going to be taking a lot of dance pictures! It’s always fun taking photos of performing arts, especially when you dance as well. However, it can be difficult to get a good shot when there’s so much movement involved, and it’s hard to shoot at the right moment without letting it slip away. Here are a couple of tips on shooting dancers in performances, whether on the stage or in the audience.

Use Your Dance Knowledge

More often than not, unless you’ve attended tech and watched every performance carefully, or know the tendencies of each team, you won’t be able to accurately predict each set’s moves or formations. You can, however, use your dance knowledge to guess the moments and movement of choreography, and snap your decisive moments then. Musicality trends, familiarity of music genre, and prediction of pathways will help you take the right shots at the right times.

 

Don’t Just Aim For “Pictures”

A lot of photographers like to take shots of dancers during their “pictures”, or still moves, because it allows pictures to be crisp and sharp. But that’s only one aspect of dance. Taking shots of dancers during their pathways emphasizes movement and life, breathing life into your images and making them much more active. Again, use your knowledge in musicality to predict movements and aim for an optimal time to snap the right movements in the right locations. Arms, legs and even hair are great action focus points, and offer a way to add dynamics to your shots.

 

Watch Your Lighting

Lighting is an important aspect in dance competitions and performances. Lucky for photographers, this eliminates the usual “low light” problem of being indoors, but also presents the opposite issue of “too much light”. Additionally, some cameras have difficulty capturing certain colors in lights (my camera in particular has trouble capturing certain hues of red), so be aware of your camera’s limitations.

 

Zoom In and Out

Dance performances are a mixture of two main elements: choreography and formations. A great shot can consist of focusing on the main dancer, capturing their small movements and facials. On the other hand, being able to capture formations at the right moment gives your shot a much more artistic aspect, and highlights the beauty of synchronized movement and position. It’s rare to see a formation where all angles, movements and positions are perfectly in sync; being able to recognize and capture that moment is even rarer.

 

Putting It All Together: Capture the Feel

Dance is all about emotion! Combine the previous points to give your photos life. You can easily get sucked into worrying about things like aperture, lighting and the technical aspects of photography, but in the end it’s all about capturing the moment. Dance is both a fun and difficult style of photography to shoot—you have to always be on your toes when shooting. Once a moment appears and disappears, it will never be repeated again, even if you see it a second time.  I usually like to take a lot of shots and choose at the end so I don’t miss anything—you can worry about selecting photos after the performance is done.

Whether you’re shooting on stage or in the audience, it’s always important to be conscious of what you’re shooting. You don’t need a fancy camera to get a great shot either—I’ve gotten a lot of great photos with just my iPhone. Also, remember to enjoy the show!  You can get swept up in “getting that perfect shot” so much that you end up missing most of the performance itself—watching dance live is incomparable to watching it in a video or behind a camera lens.