Tuesday, 8 March 2016

SXDance Upstage 2016 - Photographing Dancing For The First Time

University of Essex (SXDance) Wilcard Commercial - my favourite photo from the day

Last month, I received an email from the Vice President of  the University of Essex Dance Club, known as SXDance, asking if I'd be interested in photographing their upcoming multi-uni, multi-genre competition. She had been referred to me from my previous work photographing rowing and athletics, which I will post about in the coming weeks. The difference here is that once I'd said I was game, she asked "how much would you like to be paid?". Now this was new for me - previously I'd had expenses such as lunch on the day paid for but never an hourly rate! 

Payment: This was very much the outcome I had desired when I started doing sports photography. Whilst I enjoy the company and the opportunity to practice my photography, and experience new sports, my first day with athletics lasted thirteen hours not even including time spent editing. It was too much to do regularly unpaid but hopefully my luck with this will continue and I will be able to justify it, both to myself and my parents! Anyway, on to the photos themselves.

University of Southampton Intermediate Ballet - I liked the careful poise of the dancers, particularly the central subject
The Photography: As always, before shooting a new sport for the first time, I typed the following phrase into Google: "photographing X", X in this case being 'dancing'. The first result for this was Peter Norvig's resource on the subject here. Whilst there wasn't much beyond the basics of the importance of high shutter speed to 'freeze' the action and a low aperture to let as much light in as possible, there was suggestions for focus and framing that I found very useful. Unfortunately, the aforementioned combo of fast shutter and low aperture proved very difficult to use with good results in the poorly lit lecture hall. Motion blur or almost total darkness seemed to be the only results my D3200 could consistently produce. 

 I really like the framing of this image (apart from the foremost girl's foot partially missing!) but the grain is very evident. Most of the photos were taken with the ISO cranked to 6400 and for once, Lightroom's auto tone feature was struggling to keep the final results correctly exposed. In the end, I had to whittle my original 1500 or so photos down to a more manageable 467, many of which I had to edit individually. Apart from the ISO being high, another compromise I had to make was reducing the shutter speed. Ideally, I would be shooting at a shutter speed of 1/400 sec to prevent blur but in this case, this simply didn't allow enough light to hit the sensor so I had to reduce it to just 1/200 sec, allowing motion blur to creep in. 

As Peter Norvig mentioned on his site, it would be rather unusual to be allowed to use flash whilst mid-performance so I had to save it for breaks in the dancing such as the final pose of King College London's Las Divas above. Another example of lulls in action allowing for better lit photos is the following of Cardiff Met's Street starting positions. Whilst they waited to start, I was able to change to the No Flash mode on the camera and allowed it to do the work.

Overall, I very much enjoyed photographing the dancing and would happily do it again, hopefully with better lighting! Many of the dance styles such as Essex's ballet were performed to modern Top 40 songs rather than the more typical slower classical songs I expected. Other genres, such as jazz and contemporary, I had never seen at all before. The performances were fast paced and fun, resulting in a happy crowd and cheerful atmosphere.

Some other photos from the day: