Art and Photography

Please give me tips for ballroom dancing

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  • Dec 7th, 2009 1:34 pm
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[OP]
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Apr 7, 2008
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Please give me tips for ballroom dancing

Hello friends, amateurs, pros and bokeh addicts.

I was asked to be a photographer for a dancing studio competition this Sunday.
The date of this event is very convenient for me because, there is a birthday party for family friends on Saturday, so it gave me a good reason to rent Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8 VR (not the new version) for the weekend. I also will rent 3x SB-800 flash units. This is not a paid job, so there's not much responsibility.
And on top of all things, my sister is also in that competition, which means I am not really wasting my $40 for weekend rental of 70-200mm lens and SB-800 units because at least 30% of the photos will be for my own benefit, and other 70% for other people and for studio.

My equipment will be:

Nikon D300
Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8 G ED
Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G VR ED-IF (rental)
Nikon MB-D10 battery grip (rental)
3x Nikon SB-800 flash units (rental)

I am fairly familiar with all of the Nikon settings.
The place is very very large, with florescent lightning. However during the dances, they will turn off all of them except central one, and have spot lights from corners of the dancing arena (I assume they will be just regular tungsten-like spot lights)

I would be glad for any tips because this is the first time I am doing high-speed action photography, and it's different than centre-frame focus and recompose that I am used to.
ISO used for example. Or should I stay at f/2.8 or it's better to stop down to f/4 and bump ISO 1 stop to make sure that I don't get one dancer in focus, and the other one OOF

Additionally, some newbie like questions:
-what metering should be used
-should WB be set to Auto or Flash or Manual? What if during the process, I decide to turn off the flash for couple of candids, but forget to change WB from Flash to something else, then part of the pics will come out blue. Will it be fixable in JPEG? (I don't want to shoot RAW because of buffer linitations and because most of these pics will be posted on website in 800x600 resolution)
-what would be a logical way to place the flash units? One will be on camera in Master/Commander mode, and 2 others in Slave mode. The place has high "basketball-like" white ceilings, so bouncing is possible, but I am just not sure about 2 other flashes that will be off camera and their placement. Should they also bounce, or act more like fill lights? Should they be used with diffusers or white business-size card thing (you can tell I never used flash) on top?
Thanks
16 replies
Deal Addict
Feb 10, 2007
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Toronto
ISO used for example. Or should I stay at f/2.8 or it's better to stop down to f/4 and bump ISO 1 stop to make sure that I don't get one dancer in focus, and the other one OOF

depends on the lense you are using and distance you are from the subject. using my 70-200 at 200 i can get less DOF @ 2.8 @ 200mm vs my 35 @ 1.4 due to distance. If you are unsure fire a few test shots off to see how much you can get at certain focal lengths

Additionally, some newbie like questions:
-what metering should be used
again depends on what you want to show. if you want to show the whole stage and background you will want to meter for ambient and ave out the exposure between the subjects and their surroundings. this could mean center weighted or matrix or whatever you feel will be most useful to create the exposure you want. personally i would shoot all M so it stays consistent and i have more control. even if there are drastic changes to light your metering system can be fooled in A or S modes
-should WB be set to Auto or Flash or Manual? What if during the process, I decide to turn off the flash for couple of candids, but forget to change WB from Flash to something else, then part of the pics will come out blue. Will it be fixable in JPEG? (I don't want to shoot RAW because of buffer linitations and because most of these pics will be posted on website in 800x600 resolution)
again it depends on what type of lights they have there. if you start to get multiple light sources at different temps you might as well just throw out any possibility of keeping consistent colour unless you gel the flashes and use the flash. RAW has no bearing on resolution btw. so shooting jpeg you will still have to downsize unless you are planning on shooting a lower quality jpeg
-what would be a logical way to place the flash units? One will be on camera in Master/Commander mode, and 2 others in Slave mode. The place has high "basketball-like" white ceilings, so bouncing is possible, but I am just not sure about 2 other flashes that will be off camera and their placement.
not sure about the venue but i usually use 1 light... i also shoot at 3200-6400 iso though so minimal power goes a long way. you can bounce but depending on the spread it may not be very even. i would think one light on each side for balance if you are going to bounce. again it depends on how the venue is setup. using the off camera flashes as direct barebulb will work to and will give great results if you use them properly

Should they also bounce, or act more like fill lights? Should they be used with diffusers or white business-size card thing (you can tell I never used flash) on top?
depending on the size of the group and spread you want but the bounce card probably wont work.
Thanks[/QUOTE]
Deal Guru
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Dec 3, 2004
10943 posts
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Markham/Mississauga
This sounds like a gym as an arena? If so, you can forget about bouncing as the ceiling would be way too high for it to work.

What I would have done is gone the high ISO on a full frame body route, with a fast prime between 1.8 to 1.2. Maybe hotshoe flash for when the couple gets near me to light them up. You could try direct flash when they're far away but you may or may not get harsh lights.

If there's a spotlight following their every move during the performance, you could try staying within the spotlight to get your focus and meter. Bokeh at this point won't matter if the background is dark, you won't be able to see it anyway.

Remember - to freeze subjects shutter has to be above 1/500 and up. You may get some streaking in the photos at 1/500 if they're moving ultra fast but that may compliment the shot as it conveys movement and action. ISO naturally has to be high.

Ballroom dancing is dynamic, you won't be in one spot consistently. Setting stationary lights up won't do you good.

What I would go for is freezing the frame, shooting in bursts. I've had to shoot fast moving performances at weddings with shoddy lighting, high ceilings so this is what I'm basing my experience on. I'm thinking ballroom is similar if not the same.

I just hope for your sake the men's costumes aren't all black, and the women's costumes are bright colors and then there's the spotlight... because then that would make metering and getting correct exposure a helluva lot of fun! :|
Deal Addict
Feb 13, 2007
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Lulz wrote:
Dec 3rd, 2009 8:44 pm
-should WB be set to Auto or Flash or Manual? What if during the process, I decide to turn off the flash for couple of candids, but forget to change WB from Flash to something else, then part of the pics will come out blue. Will it be fixable in JPEG? (I don't want to shoot RAW because of buffer linitations and because most of these pics will be posted on website in 800x600 resolution)
Fixing WB in JPEG is seldom as effective as in RAW, but there are ways to do it in Photoshop.

1.- you can set PS to open JPEGs with the RAW Camera window (either through a Bridge right-click, or by changing the setting in Preferences->File Handling)

2.- You can open up a curves adjustment, and use the white eyedropper in the window to select a white object in the image to auto-set a white point (or the black dropper for a black point, or grey dropper for midtones)

Are the buffer issues with RAW really so severe that it would be worth sacrificing the image control? In a setting like this, I'd automatically think of shooting in RAW, not just for WB control, but for the exposure and light data that would be lost in a JPEG conversion. Much easier to adjust exposure and the like with RAW.

You might want to run a few tests with JPEG and RAW before the shoot to see if the speed difference is really noticeable.
Sr. Member
Oct 29, 2005
969 posts
45 upvotes
Bring a grey card, set a custom white balance - shoot JPEG.
Set your camera to 'M' - manual. Set your ISO as high as you comfortably can. Start with a 1/200th shutter, shoot wide open if you have to /w a bounced flash. If you're going to have multiple flashes (set them manual) - set them up strategically in the room (make sure you have sufficient light coverage) - I would personally bounce them towards the ceiling if they're not too high.

Scout the location... if you don't have the chance to do so, get there early to set-up and test.
[OP]
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Apr 7, 2008
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Thanks for suggestions so far!
I did location scouting and looked at roof measurements.

The roof is not completely flat.
It's in shape like this /\ except not as obese (the opposite of acute).
The lowest point is 15 feet
The highest point is rougly 25 feet.
It guradually goes from 15 to 25.
It's completely white, but it's not flat. It has 4 rows of little halogen spot lights. Approximately 32 on each row, so rougly 132 little halogen spot lights.

Also, another fact, on 2 longest walls (the studio is rectangular hockey-size arena) there are mirrors.
I also rented a golden color 36 inch golden reflector.
I don't know why I did, lol, it was just $4/weekend so I thought I might need it.
Deal Addict
Jul 30, 2003
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are you sure you can use flash? its a competition and and the light coming from your flash may be a distraction.
Deal Expert
Mar 25, 2005
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Lulz wrote:
Dec 4th, 2009 6:30 pm
It's in shape like this /\ except not as obese (the opposite of acute).
Obtuse.
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Oct 15, 2002
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Kasakato wrote:
Dec 4th, 2009 10:09 pm
Obtuse.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lulz View Post
It's in shape like this /\ except not as obese (the opposite of acute).
LOL...Had a great laugh over this... ;)
[OP]
Deal Addict
Apr 7, 2008
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Alright.
Finally back from the event.

It was okay, but it was total failure according to my own criteria.

Here's some brief info:

-shot 1200 pictures on 2 memory cards (main 4GB 300x Lexar Professional run out, so had to use slower 8GB Kingston)
-700 of them are complete failures and repeats. If it's a failure, it was because of combination of SUPER grainy from high ISO plus semi-OOF picture from having aperture at f/2.8 and subject moving slightly plus heavy blur
-500 remaining are OK type of shots, but nothing really stand out
-all in all, it was a frustrating experience because my pictures kept turning out badly (not user error, simply technology limitations where f/2.8 and ISO3200 didn't help)

Anyways, the place was very dark, and only occasionally they turned the light. It was lit by 1 row of halogen pot lights, and 4x of giant LED stands.
Each LED stand had 4 "circles" of different color lights.
Below is the picture. It created a cast on skin that looked unique in real life, but on pictures, I got very heavy purple color skin.
Sometimes, purple, sometimes green. Few pictures were so badly off, that I couldn't recognize what color the dress was on the picture (usually you can guess what color the dress was even if colors are off, but mixture of 4 different colors from 4 different angles created bad colors). Anyways, here:

(sorry, don't want to post kids without parent's permission)
[IMG]http://i45.tinypic.com/rtjh4i.jpg[/IMG]

This was the studio. It's very well lit during classes and all, but during the show, only 1 row of halogen lights you see above were used, so main light was coming from 4x of LED stands with 4 different colors on each (you see 2 of 4 in this picture)

[IMG]http://i45.tinypic.com/2wqcsb5.jpg[/IMG]

When lights were off during competition, I couldn't properly rely on flash because dancers moved from 1 end to another fairly quickly, so I couldn't move with them every time because the studio was packed...yet alone carrying my 2 off-camera flashes with me. So I had to rely on f/2.8 and ISO3200 but the problem is at f/2.8 it was very easy to get not only other dancer out-of-focus, but even the main dancer. I can only imagine what it's like for those on full-frame with f/1.2 glass. An inch in wrong direction, image becomes completely OOF lol.
Deal Expert
Mar 25, 2005
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Better hope you shot RAW, looks like you will be doing a lot of WB shifting.

What kind of focus mode did you use? The D300 with a f2.8 should have no problem there. Slap on an SB800 and you're golden. Did you use the flash?
[OP]
Deal Addict
Apr 7, 2008
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No, I didn't shoot RAW, lol.
I just wasn't comfortable enough to do it and I knew there would be MANY pictures to work with. I was doing this only out of goodwill and editing would have to be in minimum. I mean this isn't a wedding and I am not going to print an album. JPEG made more sence.

I used single-point AF set to S (non-continuous). I tried to use tracking, but it didn't work nicely because a couple did a quickstep dance (dance where both run very fast) and they were running towards me and none of the series were in focus, so I went back to centre point AF.

And yes I did use flash, but recycle times made me sad panda. Freshly recharged Eneloops, too.
My dillema was:
If I used flash, I got very sharp pictures with good colors and real smooth skins. But due to recycle times, many flash pictures weren't good because I always missed the moment. Closed eyes, looking in wrong way, unpleasant-looking mouth and face, weird leg position...etc etc etc.

If I didn't use flash and relied on ISO and f/2.8, I frequently got motion blur. A typical meter reading by camera would show this as optimal:
ISO2500-3200
f/2.8
1/40
I didn't want to use HI1 or HI2 settings because I still would get blur at 1/80 anyways probably.
Deal Expert
Mar 25, 2005
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Lulz wrote:
Dec 7th, 2009 12:49 am
No, I didn't shoot RAW, lol.
I just wasn't comfortable enough to do it and I knew there would be MANY pictures to work with. I was doing this only out of goodwill and editing would have to be in minimum. I mean this isn't a wedding and I am not going to print an album. JPEG made more sence.

I used single-point AF set to S (non-continuous). I tried to use tracking, but it didn't work nicely because a couple did a quickstep dance (dance where both run very fast) and they were running towards me and none of the series were in focus, so I went back to centre point AF.

And yes I did use flash, but recycle times made me sad panda. Freshly recharged Eneloops, too.
My dillema was:
If I used flash, I got very sharp pictures with good colors and real smooth skins. But due to recycle times, many flash pictures weren't good because I always missed the moment. Closed eyes, looking in wrong way, unpleasant-looking mouth and face, weird leg position...etc etc etc.

If I didn't use flash and relied on ISO and f/2.8, I frequently got motion blur. A typical meter reading by camera would show this as optimal:
ISO2500-3200
f/2.8
1/40
I didn't want to use HI1 or HI2 settings because I still would get blur at 1/80 anyways probably.
Editing with RAW doesn't have to be hard. Once you set up a few shots, batch editing is fairly quick. Things do not change too much in a set up like that.

Part of the reason why you have so many OOF picture is, of course, because they were moving. Set the camera to AF-C instead. You keep your focus point and it tracks movement. The D300 will have no problem staying in focus.

Can't help you with the timing issue, it comes down to practice. Shooting in the dark with flash is where that sixth sense comes into play. You have one shot to get it right, the next is always a few seconds away. Nothing much more to say than practice! People move in repeating patterns, pick up on it and you can nail the shot.

Did you trying setting up a more elaborate flash arrangement? No idea how it would look but perhaps use it to freeze the subject, then drag the shutter (reduce aperture if necessary)? You keep the 1/40 to 1/60 shutter, but gain faster (instant) recycle times and no (less) blur.
Newbie
Jan 14, 2009
62 posts
Toronto
Did the dancers always use the whole dance floor?

I think maybe in this situation, you should park yourself and your flashes in one location for a while and wait until the dancers get within range and snap a couple of shots while they are close. You don't always have to be taking shots while they're far away.. be patient and wait for the right moment. Then after awhile, you can change your location. I guess it would've helped if you knew their routines ahead of time.
Deal Fanatic
Feb 2, 2007
5854 posts
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Toronto
I think you need more memory cards sir. ;)
A 4GB, and 8GB, isn't enough. :)

I would have set up flashes in a corner or two, bouncing off the ceiling or directly at the dance floor, high ISO, adjust flash power to get photos to your liking.

I'm thinking of the photos Spencer posted which you can tell his lighting setup.

Exactly like this:
Large floor, flash pointed at the dance floor. You can't say it doesn't look good. :)

[IMG]http://spencerfu.com/photos/blog/debbie ... web-38.jpg[/IMG]
[IMG]http://spencerfu.com/photos/blog/debbie ... web-37.jpg[/IMG]
[IMG]http://spencerfu.com/photos/blog/debbie ... web-42.jpg[/IMG]
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