How to Photograph a Dancer {Photography Tips}

March 20, 2012

in Photography Tips, Photography Tutorials

How to Photograph a Dancer

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I started dancing when I was about three. I will always love it and wish I still had the flexibility and endurance of my sixteen-year-old self. It’s probably something I will never get back, and sadly, all my photos from my golden dancing days are a blurry mess! With the affordable cameras available today and a few great tips, you can learn how to photograph a dancer and better preserve the next generations’ talent for years to come.

How to Capture a Dancer in Motion

1) Learn to count.

If you’re not a dancer, you’ve probably never started a sentence with “5, 6, 7, 8”.  Well, most dance music has 8 beats per measure, so counting 1-8 will really help you get in sync with the music and movement. If possible, talk it over before you start taking photos. Work out the counts – such as “I’ll count 1, 2, you bend on 3, jump on 4”. Or have the dancer count for herself – have her tell you on what number she’ll be in the air and be ready to snap away.

How to Photograph a Dancer

And remember – when you’re shooting from the bleachers and can’t talk with the dancers – counting is your best friend!

 

2) Use a fast shutter speed.

Shutter speed is the most important setting on your camera when it comes to photographing something as quick as a dancer. Nothing should be blurred – especially their feet. I love when I can see every strand of hair moving. If lighting is an issue – shoot in the middle of the day. NEVER let your shutter speed get below 1/600. I try to keep mine above 1/2000.

You can see that in the photo below that 1/50 second is simply too slow to effectively capture the movement of the hands, feet and hair.

How to Photograph a Dancer

By dialing up the shutter speed, you achieve a much sharper photo.

How to Photograph a Dancer

How to Photograph a Dancer

How to Photograph a Dancer

3) Increase your ISO indoors.

Taking pictures in a high school gym is one of my least favorite things to do. Those lights! They are my worst nightmare. However, when you’re shooting a recital or competition, you don’t have the luxury of deciding the light source. So get on board with the fact that, in order to keep your shutter speed high, you’ll have to bump up your ISO and deal with the grain. I never use a flash – even in unflattering fluorescent lighting. I generally try to keep my ISO under 400, but anything under 1200 in a gym is fabulous. If the grain is too much for my taste, I convert the photo to black and white.

How to Photograph a Dancer

How to Photograph a Dancer

How to Photograph a Dancer

How to Photograph a Dancer

4) Be prepared, but don’t over direct.

It’s always a good idea to come prepared with ideas for your dancers, but some of the best shots come when you let them to their own thing. Dance is an emotional outlet – so let them do what feels right, and don’t take your eye off of them! I have a pinboard with dance poses for a back up in case my mind blanks and my dancer runs out of ideas. Blast music from your car and see what happens.

How to Photograph a Dancer

How to Photograph a Dancer

How to Photograph a Dancer

How to Photograph a Dancer

5) It’s not all about movement.

Not all dance photos have to be of jumps or turns. Be sure to capture some detail shots and stills as well.  These quiet images help to tell your dancer’s story.

How to Photograph a Dancer
How to Photograph a Dancer

So remember: count along with the dance, use a fast shutter speed, and increase your ISO when necessary to capture the dancer’s motion. And don’t forget to shoot the details, too.  With these tips, you can take beautiful photos of your favorite dancer.

Hayley Bradshaw
Hayley Bradshaw is a portrait and sports photographer in Southern Utah who lives for the moments in life that only come around once. Follow her blog to view more beautiful photos.

 

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Catherine Stephenson January 12, 2015

These photography tips are great. I will be passing these along to the parents of my dancers at my studio!

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Shutterstock May 24, 2012

Essential tips for capturing dancers in motion. http://t.co/O8Ho8SEm

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Karen March 31, 2012

It seems to me that the photograph in question would fit into the second part of the definition, and therefore be owned by the magazine. You may want to consult a copyright attorney, who would likely need more specific details to come to a more definitive answer.

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Patrizia Corriero March 25, 2012

How to Photograph a Dancer {Photography Tips} http://t.co/F9AigWvO

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Vivian March 23, 2012

I know that it’s hard to captured an auction image, that’s why I am amazed with this image collection of a dancer… I remember my times when I perform also like this…

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Beatriz March 23, 2012

This is really beautiful image and I feel the emotion in these captured photos, I am pretty amazed in every poise you take… They had an amazing talents..

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jan kovitch March 21, 2012

How to Photograph a Dancer | I Heart Faces http://t.co/EMMrunsM

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Nicole March 21, 2012

this so nice and I like it.
thanks that you sheared this.
nice photo.

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Jeanette Verster March 20, 2012

Hey @catjuggles here's a blog post for you… how to take dancing photos… http://t.co/73di7ocr

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The Camera Store March 20, 2012

Photo Tips: How to Photograph a Dancer via @iheartfaces and Hayley Bradshaw #photography http://t.co/L0zcQUkl

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Danielle Cowden March 20, 2012

Nice article. I’ve found shooting my daughter’s dance events to be some of the most challenging shooting I do. Not only do you have to nail it technically, but learning to anticipate movements can be tough. More so than shooting sports like baseball and football because if you miss a movement in dance you’re not likely to get another chance that performance. And you really do have to embrace the noise with the high ISO settings. Even with a fast lens and good stage lighting sometimes you can’t be afraid to bump it up. It took me a couple of recitals to learn that one.

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Shirley March 20, 2012

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Love and need all the info I can find on action shots as I shoot mostly high school sports. Thanks for the advise and tips!

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George Couros March 20, 2012

How to Photograph a Dancer | I Heart Faces http://t.co/rjUQ3mHn

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Jessica @ Balancing the Dream March 20, 2012

I too was a dancer growing up!! My goal is to capture my daughter as she HOPEFULLY grows up to be a little ballerina!! These are stunning photos!! And great tips!! Thanks so much for sharing!!!

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Kristi Busby March 20, 2012

Super great practical advise – love it! Thank you!

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Nicole March 20, 2012

Absolutely lovely pictures. So beautiful images! Thank you so much for sharing.

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Susan in the Boonies March 20, 2012

Really great tips, and absolutely lovely pictures.
So very practical.
Thank you sooo much!

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Dana Suggs March 20, 2012

Oh these are BEAUTIFUL images!! I have had to photograph dancers before, and it’s NOT easy! VERY nice tutorial!!

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Snekcip March 20, 2012

Awesome shots!!! I can almost HEAR the music in each of them!!

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