Dance performances happen in every religion, culture and in places all over India.
These are great opportunities to make good pictures and to hone your skills. There are a variety of situational problems that you are bound to encounter. Yet, following a few simple practices can ensure that even your first attempt gets you some fantastic results.
1. KNOW THE DANCE FORM : Practised, repeated movements and expressions are a part of any dance performance. In a dance, fluid motion often ends in static, momentary poses. If you know when and how the action will occur, you will be better prepared to capture it. It always helps to have seen the dance form on television, at other live shows, or during the onstage dress rehearsals.
2. GET PERMISSIONS WELL IN ADVANCE: Dress rehearsals give you the chance to shoot without the constraints that accompany the actual performance. After the rehearsal, you can request the dancer to enact a posture or an expression. Backstage, the drama before the dress rehearsals is not just exciting, but offers an unlimited variety of pictures.
3. MASTER YOUR EQUIPMENT: Inside an auditorium, the dim lights will not allow you to see the camera controls. You need to preset your camera according to the expected conditions and know your gear well enough to change settings quickly, in the dark.
4. KNOW THE CAPABILITIES OF YOUR LENS: A standard zoom lens is great for capturing group performances. You will need focal lengths of 200mm for fulllength shots. You may require lenses up to 300mm for capturing facial expressions. Be prepared for problems associated with the kind of lenses that you have, from shallow depth-of-field to non-availability of large apertures, to camera shake caused by the weight of your lens. A light tripod or a monopod is always a great help.
5. THE VANTAGE POINT IS CRUCIAL: Choose your position well to avoid distractions like banners and stage lights entering your lens, which may happen despite the use of a lens hood. A low vantage point from the foot of the stage can help avoid these distractions and heighten the mood in your pictures. If you can get permission to shoot from the wings of the stage, it will give your pictures a perspective that none in the audience would have seen.
6. COPING WITH LOW LIGHT: Flash photography is usually prohibited because it disturbs the artistes. In this situation, large aperture lenses are useful. Do not be afraid to boost the ISO to get the required shutter speed. Even images shot at ISO 3200 can give you good-looking, medium-sized prints.
7. SHOOT IN RAW, USE SHUTTER PRIORITY: It is more important to time yourself and release the shutter at the perfect moment rather than bother about technicalities. In the Shutter Priority mode, you only need to control the shutter speed. Use Center Weighted or Spot Metering, if your camera allows you to. Leave settings like ISO and WB to Auto. Shoot in RAW to recover details while post-processing.
8. POETIC BLURS OR FROZEN ACTION?: Sharpness is vital in pictures in which you want to show the delicacy of an expression or a posture, or the energy of a dancer in mid-air. Shutter speeds of 1/250sec or faster can help freeze the action. On the other hand, you can use shutter speeds from 1–1/20sec for creative blurs that capture the sheer beauty of the dancer’s movement. Blurs work better if the performers are wearing colourful costumes and if the background is dark.
9. MOVEMENT, EXPRESSIONS AND FORM: Great dancers experience moments of truth. As a photographer, keep in mind the three cornerstones of dance – movement, expressions and form, while you concentrate on capturing these moments of sheer joy and abandon.
10. MORE THAN APPRECIATE, KNOW: Finally, the best photographs come from knowing and feeling the passion and obsession that drives the artistes to spend decades in perfecting their art. Almost any camera can do a good job if you use it well. Dance photography sharpens your sense of timing and the speed with which you react. More than this, it teaches you to appreciate the poetry of the human body.
• Rapturous moments of expression lend themselves naturally to telling pictures.
• Coloured gelatines used on spotlights sometimes lend accents to postures and costumes.
• Go for the moments of truth. Statuesque poses are passé. Body language and expressions convey so much more.
• Lighting situations can continuously keep changing. Watch out for distracting shadows and wait for the dancers to turn towards the light.
• One may reach the soul of the dancer when your lens meets the dancer’s eye. Look for these opportunities.
• Look for moments when the ecstasy of the dancer is projected through their body posture and movement.
• Capture billowing costumes and drapes to show off the dancer’s energy and motion.
• Get your pictures to bring out the power of the dancer’s movement. Do not kill the tonal values with flash or WB settings.
• The rendition of mood depends on how you capture and convey the spirit of the performer.