Five tips for photographing live dance

Jean Abreu in 'Blood' at the Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House. London 27th June 2013

Jean Abreu in ‘Blood’ at the Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House. London 27th June 2013

This, the first of a series on basic dance photography techniques that I plan to post weekly, comprises five basic pointers for people who are new to dance photography and want to up their game.

1. If it’s dark and the dancers are moving quickly don’t try to shoot everything. Instead, work out what area of the stage you want to shoot, use autofocus to make sure anything in that area will be sharp and then turn it off. Then wait for dancers entering that area of the stage to make pleasing patterns that help your composition and shoot only when they do so. Doing this will enable you to shoot faster and you won’t have to worry about missing those really special moments (the camera’s autofocus can take time in low light).

2. If you’re not confident enough to operate the camera on a fully ‘manual’ mode, work out your optimal ISO in advance (in a dark stage it’s likely to be somewhere between 1600 and 3200). Your shots may well be grainy but they won’t be so blurry.

3. 90% of photography is about waiting for the right moment and about getting the best possible composition. Only 10% is about understanding techniques. Don’t keep the shutter down or stay in continuous mode all the time, instead wait until people look good alone or in patterns and shoot in very small bursts.

4. Don’t worry about getting all of the story into one shot. While it’s nice to have a few shots of everyone on the stage, less busy shots are often more interesting.

5. Be polite: be aware of the noise your camera makes and try to minimise it so as not to antagonise those around you. Don’t use flash unless you have specific permission to do so and then only use it rarely as it can upset both dancers and audience. Don’t shoot in peoples’ faces unless you have their advance explicit permission.