My third and most recent trip to the Greenwood was for yet another completely different animal, the annual Dance Show. In it, numerous groups of students get involved to make a major, multi-faceted dance event, all – vaguely – centred around a general theme. It makes for quite a varied, energetic show.
This year’s theme was Read All About It. To be honest I’d not have known if I hadn’t been told, the theme was pretty loosely interpreted.
The reason for my visit was the culmination of the shooting side of a project I’ve been working on with Catherine since last December. Catherine manages the Greenwood Theatre, and as part of a bit of a spruce up she wants a series of photographs in the foyer showing off the theatre. I’d already shot a sparsely-propped production of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, and a far bigger production of song-and-dance number Fame. The Dance Show was a third sort of production, with lots of movement, creative lighting and little acting to be seen.
In fact, one of the great issues with editing these images was deciding what constituted a decent capture of the flowing movements of modern dance and what was just unacceptable camera shake or blurriness.
When I arrived many things were still being set up, with lighting, positions and music cues still being given last-minute tweaks before the full dress run began. This gave me a fair amount of time to figure out what I was going to do, and as the lighting was being tested I was able to sort out what settings I would use on my camera.
This being my third visit to the Greenwood, and only two and a half weeks after my successful trip to the London Fashion Weekend, I took what at the time felt like a bit of a brave decision, and chose to shoot the event with my camera in full manual.
Shooting manual removes any of the camera assistance. You set both the aperture and shutter speed, and if that happens to result in an image far too under- or overexposed then it won’t care and it’ll take the picture anyway. So fortunately, I had some of the lighting tests to figure out exactly what settings I should be using.
After shooting two previous shows at the Greenwood, one of the main things I was keen to avoid was shooting at too high an ISO to avoid having too much noise in the images, something I’d seen on the previous shows where I’d had to push the ISO up to 5000 or even 6400. By shooting in manual and thus strictly controlling shutter and aperture, I was able to shoot for the duration of the show at an ISO of 2500. Another signifiant advantage of shooting in manual is that unexpected changes in lighting wouldn’t suddenly throw the camera into a tizzy, and allow me to get shots like this relatively easily:
For the most part, I settled on about 1/125th of a second to minimise blur, and as wide as an aperture as the focal length would allow. Occasionally I’d change this for unusually brighter or darker scenes, and for times I wanted to capture motion I’d set the shutter at about 1/4th or 0.3sec and close up the aperture to about f/20.
I’m now aware that I’ve now gone on at some length about lots of technical details, thereby losing the attention of anyone reading wanting to look at pictures of people dancing. I imagine if you’re the latter you look a bit like this now.
So for your benefit, I’m going to shut up for a bit and just post some pictures.
One framing technique I used all the way back when shooting All’s Well That Ends Well that I really liked was deliberately catching the theatre lights at the top of the frame, as you can see in quite a few of the images in the set above. This being the dance show, there was a nice array of colours available.
Shooting manual turned out to be a good idea. It meant that when all of this lighting changed suddenly, I wasn’t caught out needing to adjust the exposure compensation to account for the fact I was unexpectedly pointing my camera at a silhouette. I think I missed less photo opportunities by shooting in manual – like this ones, which would have probably gone by the time I realised the camera was not shooting what I wanted.
If I had been shooting in Aperture Priority, the camera would have looked at what I was focussing on – the silhouettes – and thought, ‘that looks awfully dark. I’d better up the exposure to make sure we can see what he’s photographing’, giving me a long shutter time and leaving me with a blurry overexposed mess.
It also helped during the few sections that used a strobe light, which would be damned near impossible in any other shooting mode (although admittedly most of my attempts came out as black frames).
And of course, sometimes the lighting would turn blue for no readily apparent reason.
Most of the pictures here so far seem to make some sort of sense. Not every dance routine was so traditional, however.
For instance, one sequence involved a fleet of dancing Marilyn Monroes, something which must have made sense to someone at some point.
(As soon as I got home from this shoot, I quickly went through the images and picked about half a dozen to send over to Catherine. As I shoot at the final dress rehearsal the day before the show opens, and the Greenwood team like to put a post on their Facebook page to promote shows, I wanted to try to get them one of the actual show to use. The image above is the one that was picked.)
The dancing Marilyns was silly enough that I decided to make an animated GIF of it from some of the frames I captured of the dance.
If you sit starting at it long enough I think you’ll have some kind of aneurysm.
Another of the more unusual segments featured women in pink, skin-tight leopardskin jumpsuits dacing with men dressed as the Village People policeman. Because after a troop of dancing Marilyns anything makes sense.
And then you had the ballroom-atired women dancing with road sweeps, which is, comparatively speaking, actually not that peculiar.
And of course, there was the compulsory rolling around on the floor interpretive dance section. I can’t remember what this looked like on the day; looking back at the image now I’m guessing they were paying a game of ring around the roses.
This all inevitably ended with someone just sitting on the stage.
But then, I don’t really understand dancing.
I’ve sent all of the ‘longlists’ of image from the Greenwood shoots to Catherine to mull over – almost a thousand images in total – to pick the images that will end up on the walls of the theatre. The decision was made to have ten larger images in the foyer and another ten smaller prints in the dressing rooms, making twenty images in total. I know what the twenty images are, and have passed them on to Catherine to send on to the printers. Once they’re all done and in place I’ll let you know which ones made the cut, and hopefully share some photographs of the images up on the walls.
—————————————————————————————————————-All’s Well That Ends Well
London Fashion Weekend