Category Archives: Tips
There’s nothing like an F/A-18 Hornet screaming over your head about 100′ up to get your attention. You can feel the power of the twin GE F404 engines – OK, make that hit over the head.
I live in Atlantic Beach, and I did not have to be told that the Blue Angels were in town or that the Sea & Sky Spectacular was happening this past weekend. Come last Thursday I heard them practicing as they flew over my house. Make that felt and heard them practicing.
I went on Sunday, not to where the event was officially held down in Jacksonville Beach, but I stayed right up here in AB (about 5 miles north). I did this the last time they were here, and you do get a different perspective than when at the event site itself. Fortunately, most of the aircraft make low-level approaches from the North right over my little part of the world, including the Angels themselves. There are no crowds to contend with, and, although you give up close views of the acrobatics, you do get a better perspective of the patterns they are making with smoke trails.
You don’t need exotic equipment to shoot an air show. My lenses, although high quality and fast, are fairly moderate in focal length. This is a time where a moderately priced 70-300 will go a long way to getting you great shots.
At this distance, I am able to still fill the frame with the patterns the planes are making. And, when they come close, you can get very intimate shots like this, un-cropped, view of the Diamond.
You can read the names on the cockpit.
One tip for shooting prop planes is to select a shutter speed slow enough to show movement in the prop. Frozen propellers don’t look right – they look like they are on the ground, or a model plane suspended from a ceiling. I shot using 1/200 of a second (and as slow as 1/125) with a stabilized body (other systems use stabilized lenses) to show movement. Even then I would have tried a slightly faster shutter speed – possibly 1/250 next time – as the trick is to show a hint of the prop with motion blur. It is difficult to see the prop if you get full blur.
My favorite shot is the following. This is not photoshopped. Be patient, anticipate, and good things are sure to come your way.
That’s an inverted angel, smoke trail, and Venus. Pretty cool.
So Susie is in a recital and you want to get some photos. What do you do?
Here are some tips I’ve learned from shooting dance events over the years.
It’s About Light
Photography, from the Greek, means “light drawing.” The challenge is doing this when there isn’t any. Like when your daughter is performing in a dimly lit venue.
I won’t lie to you. Sports photography – which dance is, if you haven’t realized it by now – can be expensive. The ability of your camera to capture as much light as possible will determine your experience and results in capturing your loved one. There are 3 components to exposure (light capture)- aperture, shutter speed, and sensitivity (ISO). You work within the confines of your camera and your lens selection to achieve optimization.
Normally you set 2 and work with the other. In dance, stopping motion is the most important aspect, but ironically you are at the mercy of the other two components. Set your ISO and aperture and use the highest shutter speed you can after that. I typically set my camera to “A” (aperture priority) mode at the widest aperture I have (typically f/2.8 in a zoom lens).
Light collection, then, for us depends on sensitivity and aperture. Work at the limits of your camera. This implies that you know what these are. For my system, ISO 3200 at f/2.8 are my working numbers. If you don’t know what these are, you need to find them. Don’t assume the highest ISO your camera is capable of is the one you want to use. More on this later, but increasing ISO also increases noise (color patterns in blacks). Noise reduction – in camera or in post – results in smearing. Pick the highest ISO that produces acceptable results.
ISO depends on your camera. Aperture depends on your lens. Fast aperture = expensive lens. Sorry. I don’t make the rules.
I’m not telling you to you go out and buy an expensive lens. I am telling you to learn what are the limits of what you currently have, At what ISO and aperture can you achieve the fastest shutter speeds in the condition that you have to shoot in? That is the information I am telling you to get.
After you set the highest ISO you can get away with (not necessarily what your camera can do, but what produces acceptable images) and the lowest aperture your lens will allow, what’s left is your shutter speed. This determines how effectively you can stop action.
To stop dance motion, I have found you need 1/750 of a second shutter speed. Sometimes you can get away with 1/500, but hands and feet usually need 1/750. The last time I tried, I didn’t come close to achieving these kind of speeds. Give up? Well, not exactly. As long as you have the face in focus and sharp, you can get away with compromising hands and feet.
Of course, there are no free lunches. Wide aperture means decreased depth of field. Good for isolating your dancer with focus. Bad for keeping everyone in focus when shooting groups. High ISO means noise. Slow shutter speed means blur.
Photography is all about compromise. You give something, you get something.
1 Good Picture is worth 100 bad
It doesn’t matter how many pictures you get. It only matters that you get at least 1 good one.
The more you shoot, the better your chances are. What the world doesn’t see doesn’t count. Edit. Show only the best.
You can have bad focus, blurred image, etc. It doesn’t matter. If you have a compelling image, you have a compelling image. If you don’t, you don’t.
Get Close, Get the Angle
My experience has been go to the side. The side produces views that eliminate background clutter and give the most pleasing views. Get close. Get the angle.
This also has the positive side effect of getting out of everyone else’s way.
86 the flash
Unless you have many or very powerful off camera flash, you are wasting your time with on-camera flash. For one thing, the light source is small and harsh. For another, at the distance you are probably shooting, it will contribute nothing to the exposure anyway. Unless you are in close to your dancer. Then you put her and other dancers in danger – they are performing in a relatively dimly lit area and you come in and blind them with a bright light.
Flash also falls off, so it is good at isolating but bad – again, unless you have many of them – at lighting groups.
Flash also kills any theatrical lighting.
I generally don’t use flash, nor recommend it, unless I am at a dedicated photo shoot without theatrical lighting.
Shoot Rehearsal/Practice if you can
The actual performance is probably not when you want to shoot. There are more people there and more restrictions (if you can shoot at all). Shooting during the rehearsal allows you to go where you need to.
As I mentioned above, however, I tend to shoot from the corners of the stage. This allows interesting angles and gets you out of the way as well – there are other people there, too. They have a right to see and take pictures, too.
If you are close to the stage chances are you are shooting up at your dancer rather than down at them. Good.
Shooting up makes your subject more regal. It is a technique used in fashion photography, for example. It lends import; they are on a stage, after all!
Compositionally it can also help to create diagonal and leading lines. All good stuff.
Wide shots, dancers tend to get lost. They are not necessarily bad, but the more you can fill the frame the better. Try to isolate your dancer. Crop in post if need be.
Negative space and other compositional elements still are in play. However, get tight shots too.
But Give Stunts Room
If your dancer performs stunts, you need to back off on the framing considerably. It is very difficult to get hands and feet in when they are flying all over and you are in tight. For tumbling, give twice the frame you think you need. If it’s too wide you can crop in post, but it’s tough to add arms and leg parts when they are chopped off in the frame.
Shoot Dances Your Child Isn’t In
Practice. Learn to anticipate.
Capture the Peak
In any sporting endeavor – including dance – there is a moment when the action peaks and the dancer is almost motionless. This is the moment you want. It is the easiest to capture as shutter speed restrictions matter least.
If you have seen the dance before you can anticipate when this occurs. If you haven’t seen it before the level of difficulty increases exponentially. Best bets are to shoot multiple frames in bursts – don’t keep your finger on the trigger all day long as eventually (unless you shoot JPEG) your buffer will fill. Shoot like soldiers are trained to – short, controlled bursts. More on this later.
Lots of it. Keep an eye on use and change cards between dances.
I have found that if your camera supports RAW format, using it allows correction in post processing much easier than using JPEG images. Of course, RAW format produces larger image files so your card is going to fill faster and your camera will take longer to process them. Still, I find adjusting everything from white balance to noise reduction more effective when shooting RAW.
You do need a RAW converter – Aperture, Lightroom, ACR – something.
Use Servo Focus and Hi Frame Rates
Some camera manufacturers call it “Continuous Focus,” some call it “servo,” but choose the focus method where the lens will follow action. On my camera, there is a “C” mode that you select.
If you don’t select this mode, you may find yourself unable to take pictures as the camera waits to lock focus. On the flip side, you may find yourself taking out of focus or off focus images. You still need to use the focus points, but you won’t be waiting on your camera to lock focus.
Use the highest frame rate your camera will allow. Mine is 5fps while shooting RAW. But keep it light on the trigger – shoot bursts.
Eliminate exit signs, body parts that you don’t want, debris on the floor. Photoshop rules. Sorry, but capture is only 1/2 of the equation. Post processing is the other 1/2. Do it.
You want 1/1000 of a second at f/8, ISO 200. You walk in and find yourself at 1/30, f/2.8, ISO 3200. Talk about lemons!
You’ve been dealt a shitty hand. Play it.
Use blur, color, motion. Noise. Whatever.
You have an image. Make the most of it. If there is a problem, minimize it, but you don’t necessarily have to hide it. Emphasize it. It’s “art.” Some of the best images in photography technically suck. This doesn’t mean that yours technically sucks, it means it shouldn’t be an excuse. You know when you have the shot – use it.
The image below has blur. But I used it to advantage. The main focus of the image is sharp; the blur in the remainder of the image helps focus the eye on the subject. Note the hands and feet are not sharp. This also adds to the feeling of motion one expects in a dance image. As long as the face is sharp – and even then you can get away with it not being so if you play your cards right – the image works.
The image is also framed to the lower 1/3 – a compositional trick to add interest. This also draws away from the negatives and accentuates the positives in the photograph. You as the photographer use your skill to direct the viewer’s eyes; this doesn’t change in dance event photography.
Your Camera and Your Lens Means Nothing
You are the photographer. You make the image. No one cares how you made it. If you can make it with a ball of twine and a stick, more power to you. You rock. You are a genius.
But if you don’t get the shot, you suck. I don’t care what you have. Neither does anyone else.
Good equipment makes it easier. It does not make the photograph. You do. Never forget that.
Being photographed is not natural, especially if you are not used to it and it is being done in a studio setting. People naturally tense up. In addition to the photographer, there may also be other people there, such as hair and makeup artists. Then there are the lights, camera, etc., etc.
How do you relax under these conditions?
It is probably best to start with a prop, including being seated in a chair or coach, or if on location with something in the environment. I’ve made the mistake of starting against a cyc wall with people who are not used to being photographed; I found the transition is too difficult and the initial images rarely useful. It’s best to ease into the process, and being comfortable and having something to use as an aide to posing can help you relax and improve the chances of getting good images.
Bring a variety of outfits. This goes for men too. You can’t use what you leave at home. Have an idea of what you want to wear to help with the decision making process, but bring more than you need. Worse case is you never use it. This is preferable to needing it and not having it.
It is best to have clothing without strong patterns in it, especially for women. It depends, of course, on what the session is about. If there is a concept, discuss it with the photographer ahead of time. It is always good to bring black and/or white outfits or tops.
Consider a location portrait. Studio work in and of itself can be intimidating. Locations help by providing a familiar feeling.
Finally, what will make or break the photograph is your engagement with the camera. Your eyes provide the key. One of the reasons images with the subjects eyes closed work is because it removes this variable. Eye contact without engagement with the camera is deadly to an image. The viewer must be drawn in.
One of the tricks I have heard to achieving this is, for women, to practice your “makeup face.” You know, the relaxed, intense look when you are applying makeup and want to check your work. The different facial expressions that you use to make sure you looking good.
And “smile with your eyes.”
These are a couple of shots I took of Nancy, an elegant woman that I photographed lately in a portrait session in studio. I generally choose to do images with eyes closed in a soft, dreamy type atmosphere in addition to eye contact with camera. I found the images we did with her seated in a comfortable chair were the most successful of this session.