Today I want to talk about something a little different than I usually do on the blog and something that I've come to think about more directly now that I photograph dance events: How to get a good social dancing photo of yourself at an event. Have you ever looked through hundreds of photos of a dance event hoping to see a glimpse of yourself dancing? I know I’ve had several occasions where the only photo of me was of the back of my head or of me waaaaay in the background. I am writing this from the perspective of a lindy hop and blues dancer, teacher and organizer turned photographer so I do want to stress that all the tips in here are my opinions. I do think that others share them too but I'm taking responsibility for them here ;)
I think we all want good photos of ourselves and on social media especially we want to have photos as proof that we were at an event and part of the party. I find that a quick snapshot with your phone is fine to mark a point in your life, but usually doesn’t produce a memorable photo or do your experience justice. Getting a great photo of yourself can be difficult, with medium sized events having 100-200 dancers attending and very large events approaching 1000. My local lindy hop event right here in Oslo is quite big and will have more than 350 dancers from all over the world! If an event has an official photographer there is usually only one to cover all the classes, bands, performances, competitions, atmosphere, venues, any tours of the city, and social dancing so there's a lot to cover. Add to that most social dance photography gigs are done on a reduced price because we love photography and dancing so we come to the event to take classes and social dance ourselves as well.
Luckily I have a few tips to get through all the clutter and increase your chances of getting that one amazing shot to really prove to George at the office that you can dance!
Ask the photographer to take a photo of you
Behind every camera is a person and we do really want to take the best photos of you we can. We are trained in what makes a good photo and are aware of the lighting and the backgrounds in the space. We can then direct you to dance in a spot with good light. This can be either in the ambient light or somewhere where they can control the light with a flash bouncing off the walls. We love to take good photos but it's very difficult as most venues are dark and the movement is fast so that presents technical challenges for photography. Yes, equipment is getting better and better but in the big picture (pun intended) it's still very limited. If the photographer doesn't have time at that moment then please forgive us but find us again. We still want to take your picture and it is much easier for you to find the photographer than the other way around. Or we could meet in 10 minutes by the corner of the stage?
Bring a specific dance partner
We all connect better with some people than others. This is true in life and of course also in dancing and is of course also affected by the moods of all involved. For example just last weekend I danced much better with someone I had never danced with before than with the teacher. Ask a friend with whom you dance well or are comfortable with because I like the dancers in my photos to be having fun and you can see if people are uncomfortable while dancing. I think great images are easy if people are having fun and dancing with friends can help you find that :)
Be aware of your clothing
When photographing I like to look for lines and shapes. If someone is wearing black then it's much harder to get the lighting right to show off lines or shapes. White is much better than black but my eye is more attracted to color. I like to se vivid colors and am personally attracted to bright colors like yellow, orange, and red :) More on the psychology of color here. Matching colors or outfits are always a big bonus as are colors that help with separation.
Besides the psychology of color there are also practical things to think about. Are you wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants? Will it show if you soaking from sweat? If your dress flies up are you wearing anything appropriate under it? Will your dress spin on your body out of place? There have been many times where I have scrapped an otherwise good image because it could be considered inappropriate. I will also take down any image if someone is not happy with themselves in it. Most people have this bit nailed because they dress up and put a bit of effort in for a party :D
Choose comfortable music
This one is quite simple but hard to control. If you have asked me to take your picture but there is a high or low tempo song on that you are not comfortable with then we should wait until there is a song that you love dancing to :)
Look up and smile
I teach dance as well and I always try to get people to look up. This does many many good things for a photograph including looking confident and connected. You can look at your partner, at the camera, or somewhere else. Looking up gives you better posture and better posture gives you much better lines. Having active eyes and actually seeing what you are looking at will avoid the ‘empty eyes’ that never looks good. Smiling is also a great way to enjoy the dance and show that you are having fun! Playing with your partner or the camera lets the viewer of a photograph in on the fun of why we all dance! So in the end this one is a general tip for all of your dancing but one that I think shows up on photographs especially.
Don't worry about the camera
There is something inherently uncomfortable about being the overt subject of an image that will last and we are all our own harshest critics (or at least I am mine). I find the best photographs are when you are enjoying the dance and not worrying about the photograph. If the camera is making you nervous or tense try to have so much fun that you forget about the camera and just dance. Tips #2, #4, and #5 help so much here. If you can’t forget about the camera just pretend that it is a friend that you want to show how much fun the dance is!
Review the images in camera
If you have to have the image and you are clicking with the photographer you can always ask to look at the images and see if you want to redo them. This is a much more controlled way to do it but this is the way it's done in the studio. The models and photographers will look at the images and see what works or not so they can try again. This takes the candid away but can get you an image if you have an idea in your head.
I would think that this is the tip that some photographers would not like depending on their style so be open about it and if the photographer is not feeling it then graciously accept that you will have to try this with someone else. I love to work with people so feel free to ask me.
Get to know us
Hi, I'm Seán, nice to meet you! Would you like a dance? As mentioned in Tip #1 there is a person attached to every camera. When looking through a crowd I try to be impartial but my human nature recognizes people I know and especially my friends. All the photographers I have met in the dance world are really nice people and are there because they love good pictures. We connect quickly because we have common ground. A few years ago when I was just getting started with photography I approached Alex at an event and he was super nice. I was floored by the amount of time that he took to talk to me and just be a nice guy. I didn't know him at all before that and I now consider him a good friend. I can tell you a little secret: If you have made it this far into the article then you and I have something in common too, namely we both want a good picture of you! Let's talk about it! Or about that awesome piece of clothing one of us is wearing. Or that new film that you're excited to see! Rogue One am I right!?!
Besides the personal stuff there is also the fact that every photographer has a different style. Look at different photographers' work and see if you gel with their aesthetic. We all have websites, instagrams, and facebooks for you to endlessly internet stalk us. We put our work out there for you to enjoy so please dive in!! I recently really enjoyed hanging out with Nuria and Clement.
Check out my portfolio, give my Facebook a like, and my Instagram a follow. I love to connect with people and hear your opinions even if it's something I need to work on. I can only grow with the help of others. That's you!
If you like a photo, buy it from the photographer
This is probably the most effective tip and not only for the obvious reasons. The obvious reasons are of course that if you buy my photo I can feed myself which, all things considered, I am a fan of. Due to the volunteer and non profit nature of many lindy hop and blues events they are often not able to pay freelance rates for photographers. As stated above I am also an event organizer and I realize that it is hard to pay everyone what they deserve and still keep ticket prices competitive with other lindy hop and blues events. Photography is often cut early because it is an investment in next years event and does not show any direct return for the current event. Making money off of these events in whatever way is a good way to be able to keep getting you guys professional quality photos. I think with current technology there will never be a shortage of photos but great photos are still hard to come by.
Maybe a little bit less obvious but if you buy my photo it tells me that you think my art and my time is valuable. That in itself inspires me to keep doing what I do and working towards getting you that elusive great dance photo. If you have bought a photo from me in the past then I know that you value what I do and I will naturally take more pictures of you.
I won't say that professional photography is cheap but in my opinion it's worth it. There are many options if you want to buy it and if you don't like a photo of yourself on your wall then you can always chose a photo from the event that you like. I'm also sure your parents or grandparents would be super proud to have a picture of you on their wall.
As a dancer I always wanted good photos and never stopped to think of how much photography costs. I hope these things help to start your thought process on how much you value photography and if a good picture is worth going through the effort of doing one or more of these things. I definitely want to reiterate that this is just my opinion and my thoughts on the matter and while I think that my colleagues will agree on most of the points I can't be sure.
Wow that turned into a long article! I don't plan to do these regularly but if there's a good topic and you guys let me know you value my opinion then I'll be happy to dive into it. In the meantime I'm getting back to talking about photography every week as well as looking for people to collaborate with so please get in touch if you want to do something bloggy together :D
I would love to hear your opinions on these tips! Did I leave any out? Do you agree with me? Are you a photographer and have a different view on the situation? Is your experience different from mine and in what way? Leave a comment below!
Edited by Daire Mac an Bhaird.
youtube.com/watch.... - Lindy Hop improvised performance
youtube.com/watch.... - Blues choreography
winterjump.com - Lindy Hop event in Oslo
youtube.com/watch.... - Video on lighting people
youtube.com/watch.... - Video on backgrounds and focal lengths
moosepeterson.com/techtips/color.html - Psycology of color by Moose Peterson
SeanBeardMoose.com/blog/.../swingin-valborg-2016-photos - Blog post on separation
imdb.com/.... - IMDB page for Rogue One
lightexmachina.com - Alex's website
nuriaaguade.com - Nuria's website
photographie.yourcremant.com - Clement's website
SeanBeardMoose.com - My website and portfolio
facebook.com/SeanBeardMoose - My Facebook page
instagram.com/SeanBeardMoose - My Instragram feed