A gypsey romany dancer in a custom blue and gold costume with her hands above her head. Photograph by Siorna Ashby, a portrait photographer in north London, Finsbury Park.

4 tips for dance photography

Dance Photography

Capturing movement in a portrait is an exhilarating challenge. I recently worked with a dancer who specialises in Middle Eastern and Russian Gypsy dance. 5 costume changes and a lot of laughter later, we had a dance portfolio to show off not only her skills, but her home designed and home made costumes as well.

In this post, I will talk about my 4 essential steps to taking the shoot and my 4 top tips I picked up about working with performers.

Step 1: Talk to your client

Learning about your client is essential for any photography project. By asking Casey what type of portfolio she had in mind and what images had inspired her, I understood her expectations. As it turns out Casey loves vintage style dancing images. A quick google showed me some traditional poses, but also led to the idea to use glamour lighting techniques, which led to step 2. 

Step 2: Figure out your lighting

1920’s Hollywood photographs used a technique called the “butterfly light”.  Photographers shine a light down on the subject until a ‘butterfly’ shadow appears just under the nose. This really helps give a softer glamorous look and is a great lighting technique to have in your back pocket.

For additional lighting tips read >6 Portrait Lighting Patterns Every Photographer Should Know

 

A black and white image of a gypsey romany dancer using butterfly light. Photograph by Siorna Ashby, a portrait photographer in north London, Finsbury Park.

Step 3: Capture motion

Capturing motion for a portrait is tricky. For this shoot I wanted the subject frozen in focus, but the idea of movement to strike the viewer. Casey uses veils and fans in her performances, which offered the perfect opportunity to capture this look. 

As she danced with her veil I had my shutter speed in the range of 1/1250 – 1/6000 sec with an aperture of f 2.0, and used the same diffused glamour lighting to give a softer look.

With the fans I used a flash so that Casey would have a modern style to choose from. The shutter speed was set to 1/250 with an aperture of  f 2.0, to capture the movement, while Casey held a crouched position.

Step 4: Take a risk and have fun

At the end of the shoot i knew i had the type of images Casey had asked for. In my research i had come across the photographer  Joe McNally  who used clip on bicycle lights while taking pictures of belly dancers. I wanted to try it out! .Luckily Casey was up for it and with the shutter speed at 2 seconds (flash on backfill setting) Casey danced in the darkness with the red lights streaking across the air.

My 4 tips for working with performers 

 

1. Ask ‘How many times can you do that?’ Casey could perform for over an hour on the hottest day of the year, so her stamina was far better than mine! This tip is useful if there’s a tricky, energetic dance move that you want to capture. You’ll know how many chances you get to make your perfect shot and can plan accordingly.

2. Ask ‘How are you?’ Allow for breaks and check how your client is feeling. 

3. Find out how they move. Something that helped me enormously was asking Casey to demonstrate how she danced before I started taking photographs. Watching Casey’s movement showed me her patterns and when she would stop in a certain pose for a split second. This helped to make sure I was ready at those moments to capture her face when it was in full smile, while her outfit was still in motion.

4. If you are happy with your photographs, show your client a couple of the good shots as you progress. They immediately start to relax and can even suggest how they might pose differently.

If you are a performer and would like to discuss your own portfolio please do get in contact, I’d love to work with you.