Every year I have the privilege of photographing beautiful ladiesfrom the Oasis Dance Studio here in Auckland, during their annual show.
Belly dancing has always fascinated me, and having very talented dancersas models makes for a fun, challenging, and rewarding photo shoot. Belly dancing is one of the most expressive dance styles. Its language conveys a wide range of moods, including mysterious, romantic, spiritual and meditative. It suggests raw emotions through movement. It's artistic, expressive, passionate, elegant and graceful. Watching a belly dance unfold, you see beauty, softness, and seduction. It creates hypnotising dimension and depth, and takes you on an enchanting journey.
Fluid movement of veils and wings, beautiful and colorful costumes accompanied by sparkling beads, shiny coins, glitz, and a variety of styles and movement give you unlimited options to shoot and experiment with impressionist photography.
"Dancing is the world's favorite metaphor."-- Kristy Nilsson
Dance photography, especially indoors, brings also its own unique challenges; contrast is one of the most difficult problems you will face when shooting a performance on stage. Light is very dramatic, often coloured, and is changing constantly. It takes some practice and experience to learn to handle it well. Thankfully, the LCD screen provides you with the ability to preview your exposure and adjust it if necessary.
Bear in mind that overexposing or underexposing your images can enhance the emotional expression of a scene. It is very important to know how and when to tweak the exposure to help convey mood. Take time after every photo shoot and study your images, especially the ones that you think failed, and try to figure out what went wrong. This process will dramatically improve your photography very quickly because it forces you to focus more on what you want to achieve and how to do it.
Establishing mood in a photo of a dance is not an easy task. Not only do you need to capture the performer's unique interpretation of the dance, but you also want to add your own insight. Having some knowledge about a particular style of dance is a definite advantage, but you can start by employing elements of design like colour and shape to create particular mood. For example, dark colours will suggest mystery, red will add passion, and curvaceous lines will suggest femininity. The use of darkness and the absence of colours and/or detail can evoke a mysterious mood.
Creating interesting compositions can also be challenging at first. Beginner photographers often try to include too much in a single photo with no clear concept of how to convey the message. Simplicity is the key to successful impressionist photography when attempting to capture a balance between the mood and the visual.
One of the most effective ways to capture belly dancing in an impressionist style is by using slow shutter speeds. Constant movements of the dancers give you an opportunity to show motion through blur. To accomplish this, set your camera to shutter speed priority mode. You can start with 1/10sec and then change it to a slower or faster shutter speed depending on the situation on stage and the mood you want to evoke.
Panning with a moving dancer creates a real sense of motion. With experience, you will gain knowledge of belly dancing (or any type of dance) and be able to anticipate what will happen next. This experience will enable you to quickly predict the path of a dancer, giving yourself a greater chance to achieve your desired effect.
Zooming in and out or moving your camera during an exposure can also create interesting images; they will have a more abstract feel. Focusing on details will help to provide the best outcome in your photographs. Shooting frames in sequence will also give you a better chance of getting good results. You have to be willing to shoot a lot of frames and continually adjust your technique while checking the results on your camera's LCD screen.
Remember there are no mistakes in art, only personal choices and new opportunities. Don't be afraid to experiment. Trying new techniques and unusual camera settings will spark your creativity and turn the photo shoot into an adventure in itself.