The Art of Dance Photography

July 24, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

I have a somewhat unique advantage as a dance photographer.  I was a dancer.  I trained in ballet, jazz, and tap.  I even taught tap for a while.  I understand music, rhythm, and phrasing.  I generally can watch a dancer and know that she’s going to leap or spin or pause or pose.  I also know that the music will tell me when to push the shutter button.  I know how to breathe in order to capture the apex of a jump or a kick or a hair flip.  I understand how a dancer spots an audience and can anticipate the exact moment I need to click to get a dancer in a pirouette, looking at the audience, and frozen perfectly.

What did I not have when I started photographing dancers?  I didn’t have an understanding of the mechanics of my camera.  I needed to understand that I had to compensate for the tiny delay between when I engage the button and when the shutter actually moves.  I needed to understand that in order to capture frozen movements without a flash, I had to shoot shallow (low f/stops) and practice my follow focus techniques.  I also still need to learn a new dancer’s style which takes about 30 seconds of watching how her body phrases the music. 

I’ve learned to minimize the amount of “spraying and praying” I have to do when shooting dance or any performance set to music.  I have sat next to photographers who I know have been shooting dance for years, and marvel at how many runs of burst fire shutter clicks I hear.  The music and the artist provide plenty of direction to the photographer if one just takes the time to pay attention.

Dance photography is the art of capturing art.  It is the art of anticipating the moment.  It is the art of capturing movement.  I adore photographing dancers.  It is one of my joys in life.

I have a lot of opportunities to photograph dancers brewing up, and more that I’m trying to manifest.  I got to photograph an Odissi Indian classical dance ensemble called Shakti Bhakti during the Santa Cruz Fringe Festival.  Their Ocean of Bliss show was wonderful.  Here are a few photos from the performance.


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