Each morning my youngest daughter gets dropped off to her nursery and I dash off to get on with work. I manage a quick smile or glance at the other parents before zooming off. For once, I decided to actually speak to one of them on a rushed nursery drop off morning. It occurred to me that in our haste and attention on getting our children soldiered in and ourselves out, to make the most of our kid-free time, that we never really communicate. That’s how I met Yael Flexer and hence discovered what skills she had outside the realms of motherhood.
Coincidently, a friend of mine had suggested that I should look into dance as a photographic subject, whilst we were talking about the challenge of lighting verses movement with regards to sports. So when I discovered Yael was a choreographer, I got quite excited. Amongst her own projects, Yael is also one of the artistic directors for Mapdance, the MA performance dance company at Chichester University, alongside Detta Howe. So she very kindly invited me to come and photograph the Mapdance company.
In my previous blog post I decided to use my flash during a night-time netball game and as it was an informal game, it was ok. In the case of dance however, I thought flash photography was quite unworkable. Firstly I didn’t want to bother the artists with bright pulses of light as they were focused on their movements, and secondly flash can take away the mood of lighting already there, no-matter how restrictive it may be. With that in mind, working with limitations, had reached a new level for me.
My first photography session was during a lesson that Yael was taking. For starters, she encouraged some improvisational work with the dancers by splitting them into two groups and having each dancer take it in turns to be unpredictably moved by the other dancers. This was a great warm up for me as well as them, as the motions were gentle and fluid. I used both my 15-85mm lens and 50mm lens, the 50mm was used to get some closer more intimate shots. Then, once Yael started showing the class some new dance moves, the motion sped up and I was glad I had my trainers on. I enjoyed being able to move around the whole space of the stage and was hence able to get all kinds of viewpoints.
My favourite shots were when I caught individual dancers in the midst of motion. However in my enthusiasm I got far too close to one of them and distracted her dynamic flow; needless to say I had a few blurred and angry shots to delete afterwards. Let this be a lesson in distance of lens verses distance of eye. The wider the lens, the more distorted space becomes to the viewer (mmm, who needs drugs).
To conclude this first flirtation with photographing dance, I found it invigorating and hence set my calender for the very next dress rehearsal, so look out for the next dance blog. See below for some tips.
Tips & tech info:
I worked with my Canon 7D. My 15-85mm needed a noisy 1600 ISO (the camera’s sensor speed), so I could get the shutter on 1/60 (any lower and camera shake can occur). I had my aperture going from f.3.5 to f.4.5, which despite limiting my depth of field, isolated my subject nicely. With my 50mm (f.1.4) I had a bit more flexibility, I could manage well with 800 ISO but still needed a nice wide aperture of f.1.6 so my focus had to be dead on. I honestly recall in the old days of film negatives, that I could manage low lighting with a lower ISO, or am I imagining it?
Focus is the key, you can experiment with manual focusing if you can predict the distance your subject will enter into, with autofocus you can potentially miss a sharp focus if there is erratic motion. I shoot in raw which adds a bit more time then jpeg even with a super sandisk extreme card. I chose quality over timing, then I can handle any noise in post production. In the end there are many choices to make despite the restrictions of light, but importantly it’s the integrity of vision and creativity from the photographer that will get the results. So if you are new to photography or an old hat, just keep on creating and inspiring other with your work..