The goal of event photography for most dance events is to show people looking good or having a good time. Ideally both. There are times though, when I end up a with a bunch of photos which don't necessarily fit either category, but I find personally interesting. While a picture is supposed to be worth a thousand words, I'll take any excuse to geek out on photography or dance. This is a good a time as any to do both.
I hitched a ride with some friends on Saturday to the evening dance of Hot Steppin' Weekend hosted by the University of Delaware Swing Club. It was a nice confluence of circumstances. The Boilermaker Jazz Band was playing, friends and occasional models Breai Mason Campbell and Charlie Wieprecht were the featured instructors, and I had a lot of fun working with the UD Swing Club on some Street Dancer Project photoshoots while they were in town for DCLX a few weeks ago.
I wasn't planning on taking pictures, but they had a dance contest that provided a good opportunity to get some reps in. I figured out some time ago that if I don't take dance photos on a regular basis, I get rusty really fast.
I've been shooting a lot of social dance with an 85 mm portrait lens lately mostly because the f1.4 aperture is nice in low light situations, even if the depth of field is a major challenge when photographing people running around in circles. I had a flash in my bag, but I wasn't really motivated to fiddle around with it as the contest started. I probably should have rethought that since photographing Lindy Hop is challenging in so many ways, especially if you shoot with a fast lens, wide open. it is almost impossible to get both partners in focus since they are rarely ever dancing on the same plane as each other in relation to you. You have to pick a side ahead of time and hope for the best. In the following photos, I guessed wrong, but I do still find them compelling in their own ways.
This last one hurts because getting the leader in focus would have been gold. Although getting the follow in a such a funky framing position is still pretty nice. I did get a similar shot during one of the Street Dancer Project shoots a few weeks ago, but that was because I was able to employ a deeper depth of focus out in broad daylight, and I was able to pre-focused on the people who were further back before they started dancing.
The tighter framing of the 85mm adds another compositional challenge, but it does allow you to focus on more specific lines or angles.
I like how the tie adds a bit more sense of movement to this photo. Generally speaking, a dancer can wear clothes that are tighter or show more skin which can emphasize their own lines, or they can go the other direction with something that is a bit more loose and flowy which will accentuate their movements. Social options for men tend a bit limited so you don't see much of the latter element for them. Ideally, you would wear a tie clip to keep a tie from doing exactly this, but it does work quite well for my purposes here.
I didn't want to post this photo on it's own at the risk of seeming gratuitous, but I do think this is a very strong moment. I can't say pose because she was moving pretty quickly at the time.
At this point, I'll have to admit that I didn't move around at all during this contest, which is something I would usually recommend when covering these sort of things. However, since I was just practicing essentially, I wasn't terribly concerned about getting good coverage of everyone. This photo probably would have been better from the other side, but I do like how we get a glimpse of the leader.
A little earlier in this particular sequence, I took this series of their spotlight entrance, and can't quite decide if it was a blessing in disguise when my camera dropped focus for just that middle frame. I really like the sense of balance she has here which isn't as strong in the frames before and after. Plus being out of focus adds makes for a pretty interesting silhouette. I kinda wish the crowd was a little more hyped at this point though.
I will say that I chose to sit in this spot partially because I like getting crowd reactions when I can, which is why I like the second of the photos below. Usually, it just tells a more interesting story with their involvement.
Along the storyline front, I do like these two photos of sisters on the opposite sides of a crowd judged competition.
Right after the contest, they had a special dance for the graduating seniors of the club. I caught this nice moment at the end. Initially, I liked the horizontal orientation because it felt closer, but I do like how we get to see interlocking arms in the vertical version.
I chose to process these photos in black and white mostly because the lighting in the venue wasn't terribly exciting, although it was strong enough that I didn't have to crank up the ISO setting too high.
Generally, I've been trying to do more dance photos in color because I think it adds to the vibrancy of a dance event. That being said, I do like how black and white can help to emphasize specific themes and moods. Color can be too distracting sometimes. In the next examples, the color version makes it look like her eyes are covered in some blue makeup. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that it was just her glasses catching a a reflection of some blue lights in the ceiling.
If you like reading about dance and photography let me know in the comments below. I'm thinking about dipping my toe back into the blogging pool. You can also follow me on Instagram where I made an interesting point about the photo at the top of this post. The rest of the photos from this night are on the Facebook page for this site.