The horrible 3 week long cold has finally had its last gasp, and I got my Swing Dancing Festival weekend out of the way, and now hopefully some regular blogging can resume. So, apologies Internets, I haven’t been deliberately neglecting you, but I had a bit of an overdose of life getting in the way of things recently 🙂
The good thing about the life intrusion is that I have had two entirely separate new photography experiences, one which was low light inside photography with added flash, and the other which was low light inside photography with added movement.
Today I am going to post about the second one – I have been learning Swing Dancing for the last 6 months, and Labour Weekend here in NZ happens to be the 3 day weekend our Swing club have their annual event. It coincides with the Big Band Festival – so we have lots of Big Bands in town, so we have lots of live music to dance to, which (in a large enough venue) is a pretty cool experience. And we had two fabulous international teaching couples come over for workshops.
I was still dealing with my cold and not certain initially that I would be well enough for the dancing, so I decided to do the sensible thing and take the camera along, and have that as my plan. However I have already shot two belly dance shows with my old S3IS so I had a fairly good idea of the challenges of this kind of photography, however I was hoping that some more advanced technology might help overcome some of them.
Challenges of low light dance photography I have already experienced:
– its usually quite dark
– what lighting there is is usually quite strongly coloured
– dancers are moving objects
– dancers are randomly moving objects
So to combat the above this was my plan:
– get a 50mm prime lens with widest open aperture possible – for maximum light intake and fastest possible shooting options
– put the lens on my 40D – crank up the ISO to about 800
– shoot in RAW so I could edit out (hopefully) the worst of the lighting issues
– being a dancer, hopefully being able to anticpate the moves and get the better shot as a result
– shoot burst shots to maximise potential for one good shot
The key thing here is I wanted the photography to be as unintrusive as possible ( ie no flash) and yet as good quality as I could manage without. That was the ultimate goal.
Overall, given this was my first time shooting with this lens, and in these kind of conditions, and this kind of subject, Im really happy with my output. I took 3 times as many pix as I ended up keeping, and I got some excellent shots, not just of the dancing, but general people interaction and communication.
Here is what I learned from the experience:
– spotlights are hell and yet they are everywhere!
– coloured spotlights are hell with icing on!
– a 50mm F1.8 is a pretty awesome lens for this kind of thing but it still has its limitations re light levels
– the 50mm had a really long working distance but its Depth of Field was about one person deep. It took a couple of days and an experiment with an obliging volunteer to fully figure this out for myself. When you are photographing couples dancing in 3D this is suboptimal
– the lens being fixed and having limited space to work in meant I had to keep chopping people in half to get them in the frame, so I have lots of top half shots of people, or just faces
– lots of halls/dance spaces had overwhelming yellow coloured light
– ask people nicely and they usually pose for you – a tip I picked up (I think from the Scott Kelby book) was showing them the image right after on the camera (and making sure they looked good ) meant they were more receptive to photos during the evening
– stalking people with a camera is fun – and without a flash is quite doable
– ballroom dancers are a moving hazard who will happily dance in the path of a photographer, ruining a shot
– shooting action on a crowded dancefloor is difficult, I very quickly figured out I had to circle the edges
– our Demo Swing Troupe move too fast for the camera to catch easily!
– RAW is awesome for cleaning up these kind of images – you cant make it 100% perfect but even 80% looks pretty good
Well I got LOTS of really positive feedback, and the woman who runs and teaches our club said lots of nice things, was appreciative of the fact I got dancers in action but looking like they were dancing, which is hard to do. My previous experience really helped there, and you *have* to be a dancer and know the moves to anticipate the next one and frame up a good shot. I imagine the same rules apply for sport.
I had a great time shooting, and most people were really good about it, no one got aggro at me, and most were very obliging for portrait shots. By the second night I was being asked if I was “the event photographer” because as well as having the biggest camera (everyone else was P&S that I saw) I was the one all over the place with it, and lots of people wanted to see what I had taken. I was trying to both record the event, get some cool shots, and learn a new skill, and I hope I managed to achieve something on all three.
I loved the lens, it made it all happen (and it was loaned to me by the kind people at Photo and Video International ), but I was very frustrated with the shallow DOF. I am not sure if the F1.2 lens has the same problem, I imagine it does, and its even shallower?
I would love to know what other people use in a similar circumstance, and what their setup was. Would a 35mm be better? Is the F1.2 better with DOF? Is there another lens option? Any recommendations for future events welcome.
And of course, here is the EVIDENCE 🙂