Archive for March 2007

Photographing Dancers

March 31, 2007

Dancers In The Dark, originally uploaded by foolscircle.

Photo Details:
Camera: Nikon D80
F-Stop: f/4
Focal Length: 4 mm
Exposure Bias: -0.07
Shutter Speed: 0.6s
ISO: 1250

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked by a friend to photograph a blues dancing festival known as Blues Rising, which actually brought hundreds of people from around the country to San Francisco for the express purpose of getting to dance with like-minded folks. It was pretty cool to be a part of, even as someone who covered for the fact that he has two left feet by hiding behind the camera lens, simply because of the overwhelming sense of fun that seemed to be shared by everyone.

Hamming it up on the dance floorFor me, most of my time was spent in the Boys & Girl Club where the day-long series of workshops were occurring. This probably sounds like a more glamorous location than it actually was, as the Club was a somewhat run-down and had some rather questionable lighting conditions. In particular, there was a gymnasium in the building which only had about 1/2 to 1/3 of the lamps turned on (or working, I was never sure if they were simply turned off or just burned out), which meant that I found myself using my speedlight to make up for the lack of ambient light.

The other area in the building was much easier to photograph, though a lot more crowded due to it having about a quarter the floor space of the gym, thanks to a series of windows that let in a lot of sunlight during the day. I actually spent a lot of time in there wandering across tables, countertops, and even a foosball table while taking photos from above the dancers.

After a while, I got tired of wandering around above everyone else and started getting in the way of the poor dancers so I could get some close-up portraits and action shots from different angles. It was a pretty interesting event to photograph, since the workshops consisted of the dance students switching partners every couple of minutes. While this doesn’t sound all that interesting, I swear it was because the dynamic of the dance floor was constantly changing; when you’re dancing you’re focused on only your movements and those of your partner, but since I was watching the whole room I got to witness the entire scene evolve on a regular basis.

Finally, after the workshops and a food break that lasted for an hour or so, the venue of Blues Rising switched to a different area in the city. The new venue, in a building known as CELLspace, was much more open but even weirder to photograph because it was dimly lit with gel lighting. After a lot of experimentation, I realized there were two ways to get some good images out of this type of environment:

1: You can pump the ISO up to around 1250 and then haunt the areas where the lit areas overlap without using a flash or speedlight. Unfortunately, this is kind of iffy because your subjects need to be moving slowly enough to be identifiable.

2: You can attach your speedlight to your camera and angle it so the light doesn’t hit them directly. I found that using a remote cable to hold the flash off to the side so the shadows are angled away from the subjects enough to practically be invisible. The downside to this is that the background gets blacked out a lot of the time due to the faster shutter speed, so if you’re in an interesting environment you can lose a lot of the place’s ambiance with this method.

While neither method is perfect, I found myself keeping more of the pictures than those I deleted once I started alternating between the two techniques. The entirety of the ~650 photos from the weekend can be seen here, so feel free to ask me about any particular image and I’ll try to answer you as quickly as possible.