John Olson – Shooting a Dance Performance

Photographing objects, people, or animals in motion challenges me and motivates my photographic passions. Not only do I like motion, but the suggestion that something is about to move. I am attracted by the kinetic energy and potential energy before motion; the anticipation that something is about to happen; the serendipity of not knowing what might happen.



A few months ago I was asked to photograph a dance performance, “The 3 Bonnies”, for choreographer Denise Armstead at the Burnsville Center for Performing Arts. Earlier in the year, I had photographed their practice sessions in a very cramped Yoga studio. Now, they would be performing on stage, but I had no idea what the size of the stage was going to be, which led me to bring more lens options than I would eventually need.






It turned out that the stage was a lot larger than I had anticipated.  So, I was able to use my favorite lens, the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR for almost all of the shots.  One of the limiting factors was I couldn’t use a flash.  Existing stage lighting was what I had to work with.  In my earlier sessions, a few years ago, I found the Nikon D200 was not up to the task shooting the high ISO that I needed.  But, I was confident in the D700 that I purchased a year ago.






Dress rehearsal started at 10 am in the morning before the night of the performance.  When I got there, the choreographer and lighting technicians were still trying to work out the lighting for the different scenes in the performance.  You could sense a lot of stress.  Colors and temperature changed continually.  It did give me a chance to practice before the performance.  The difficulty during the performance was that even then, the lighting changed and changed in each scene as well.









An interesting part of the program was a video that was projected from the back of the auditorium to the background of the stage.  Quite often the light also hit the dancers.  It added to the challenge of shooting the dancers but created some very interesting lighting conditions in itself.












We went through several rehearsal sessions all the way to about 7 pm, one hour before the actual performance.  I must say by then, I was pretty tired after shooting almost continuously since the morning, but probably not as tired as the dancers.  So, no complaining on my part, I was really enjoying myself.

I got a chance to be in the dressing rooms watching them put on makeup, costumes, and psyche themselves up for the performance.  A great honor for me was when they asked me to join them in a group hug for support just before the curtain went up.  They really made me feel like I was part of their dance troupe.

During the performance I primarily stood off stage right or off stage left and shot.  With the house lights off, a whole new set of lighting conditions were presented in comparison to their rehearsals.






I approached the evening with the goal of getting some stop-action shots, and some subtle blur in images to create a sense of motion.  The most challenging was to get the expressions and emotions on their faces whenever I could.









By the end of the performance at 10 pm, I was pretty beat, and still had the after performance party to attend.  It was a very rewarding day for me, and I am looking forward to the dancers next performance.

Submitted by Member John Olson

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