Before I go into the details I must share some observations on dance photography. There are several contrasting techniques that can be used. The first determines if the emphasis of the photo is up close or pulled back. The latter captures the entire dance movement, with the viewer being asked to find an area of interest. The former takes the viewer to specific aspects of the dance while it cuts out peripheral details. I tend to do the big picture photos, trying to not cut off body parts. The second technique is the flash method: direct or indirect. The direct flash puts lots of light onto the objects closest to the camera. They are emphasized while the background is still in relative darkness. The contrast between these parts of the picture can be extreme. An indirect flash requires the light to bounce off of surfaces before illuminating the target. When done properly the room can be filled with light, with contrast between the foreground and background being lessened. I tend to use indirect flash lighting in order to have a “smoother” light treatment of my big picture photos. There are pros and cons to each technique. None are better than the other on the whole. They all require equipment suited for the task and proper application of photography methods during picture taking and after.
Back to my story! One of the venues featured a fairly tall and very dark ceiling. My usual technique of indirect flash was challenged. I still wanted to get the big picture photos. To achieve photos that were not too dark I had to up the ISO setting. I was still getting dark photos, but this could be compensated for in post production work. The focus was not spot on given the depth of field challenge. The depth of field was reduced, leading to photos that were not super crisp. One of the toughest parts of dance photography is maintaining a crisp focus while people move all over the place. I did what I could with the situation, hoping for the best.
Another photographer focused on direct flash and close-up photos in the same venue. Their photos were posted first and my heart dropped. I had done some of mine and the results were not stellar. I had to really work the contrast and brightness to get post-able results. My photos were washed out and blurry compared to the other photographer’s output. I wondered if the organizers had made a mistake in paying me to do the gig. I plodded on.
My confidence returned when I did the second night’s worth of photos at the same flash unfriendly venue. I had used the walls to bounce more light and the photos were better. I also better understood the way Lindy dancers move. These shots better captured the motions of Lindy dancing. Taking a dance photograph is more about taking a picture where the dancers will be instead of where they are now. This means that a dance is a set of sequenced moves. A follows B. Each dance style has its own sequence, and I was better understanding the probable sequence of Lindy. I was much happier with these photos.
The late night photos were even better. I was in my element finally. The first room had a ceiling friendly to indirect flash photography. This compounded with my better understanding of the movement. The second room was flashing dance lights and bodies in motion. This is a very comfortable place for me as I’ve done lots of dance photography under similar conditions. The photos came out very nice, on par with those of other photographer working the location.
In the end I came to peace with the difference in outputs at a location that did not favor my usual photographing technique. An artist cannot excel all the time, under all conditions. Artists have their strengths and their weaknesses, be theses because of preferred styles of working, training, equipment, or all of the above. I was super impressed with the output of my fellow photographer. I am also at peace with the work that I achieved.