Photographing Dancers ~ Heather O’Steen Photography

How to photgraph dancers by Heather O'Steen, Harford County Photographer

It’s safe to say I have a love affair with dance photography.  It’s just about my favorite thing to photograph – and it is NOT EASY!! Which is probably one of the reasons I like it so much!  Have you ever wondered what the trick is to getting great images of dancers, in focus, with proper exposure and white balance?  Here are just a couple of quick and easy tips along with some pose ideas for you!

3 Tips on How to Photograph Dancers

1. Find the right light!

Just as with all photography, LIGHT is super crucial to a great outcome. Sometimes you can’t choose the lighting situation when photographing dancers – often it is on a stage or during a production and you have to just work with what you have.  That is a subject for another day! Today we are chatting about being able to choose your own light. Natural light is always my favorite choice for almost anyone, but especially dancers. Finding open shade (meaning a shaded area but nothing directly overhead) is ideal.  If you are shooting in full sun, make sure the sun is “backlighting” your subject and not hitting directly in front of or to the side of your subject.  Natural light will highlight the gorgeous lines and muscle definition of your dancer!

Notice the light in the photo above, even though the subject is under a roof,  notice the light touching the floor – that is where I place my subject to still get light on her while at the same time being able to use this beautiful composition of the architecture.

2. Keep Your Shutter Speed High

Dancers move fast!  To capture motion in camera, your shutter speed must be pretty high.  As a general rule the lowest you should EVER have your shutter speed is twice the focal length of the lens you are using.  For example, if I have a 50 mm lens then my shutter speed should never go lower than 100.  If you are using a 135 mm lens, then your shutter speed should never be under 270.  That is the absolute lowest.  For dancers however, you need to have probably triple or quadruple your focal length.  You need to really FREEZE that motion.  If you find you shutter speed is too low, then you need to raise your ISO and that in turn will raise your shutter speed.

I always set my focus manually to the dancer’s face.  Even though there is a lot happening on their body, choosing their face as a focal point is key.  You ALWAYS want your subjects face in focus, along with the rest of their beautiful technique.  (There are a few exceptions of course when you are getting some really fun and creative images.)

3. Watch your Dancer’s Technique

This part can be the most difficult, especially if you are not a dancer yourself.  If you know very little about dance technique – it’s important that you brush up on some general knowledge before you shoot.  It’s a good idea to let your dancer preview your images in camera immediately so they can see what they need to correct right in the moment.   Technique is SUPER important to serious dancers and it will make or break them loving your images or not!  Have a few basic dance poses in mind but also let your dancer shine with coming up with some of their own favorite ideas!  Having your dancer hit the proper technique and yourself hitting the shutter at the exact 100th of a second that it happens is quite a challenge. (Which is what makes dance photography so much fun!)

Finding proper white balance is always a priority when photographing anyone, but especially a dancer since they typically have more skin showing than a normal client would.  My best tricks are to learn the Kelvin system, or even better is to use an Expo Disc for proper white balance.

Happy dance shooting!

Much Love,

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Heather O’Steen Photography,

Harford County Dance Photographer, Maryland Dance Photographer, Baltimore Dance Photographer

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