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Dance motion photography – nailing that action shot

Snapping a picture of a dancer on stage during a presentation is one thing, but capturing a picture of a dancer in motion is a whole other endeavour. Leaps, kicks, spins – it’s all fast movement, and getting the right angle, the right shutter speed, and the right light, is a study in perfection. In part two of our interview with feis photographer Shannon Cohoon, we’re delving into motion photography.

Note: capturing a picture of a dancer in motion during a feis is against CLRG rules. Please check with your teacher for the rules of your individual organisation. This information is intended as a guide for capturing photos outside of the competition space.

Ready to Feis: If your average parent wants to get a nice action shot at a performance, what are the basics they need to know?

Shannon Cohoon: Taking a fantastic action shot can be extremely difficult and is something I am still working on mastering. It is not easy to have the camera positioned properly, and accidentally cut off the top of the dancer’s head or the front of the foot. When I take action shots, I do not zoom in on the dancers too closely in an attempt to avoid these types of fiascos. Action shots are the perfect example of when it is much better to be further zoomed out and crop the photo closer to the dancer later.

Timing is crucial when taking an action shot. There is nothing worse than taking a photo of a dancer in the air and realizing later that the back leg of the dancer was coming down to land. Knowing the step of the dancer is extremely helpful because you are able to anticipate the ‘big moves,’ like a leap. This allows you to take the photo at the right moment instead of a millisecond too late.

Great action shots are wonderful to have, but are not the easiest to achieve. Although you may want a picture of your dancer executing an extraordinary leap to show to friends and family, sometimes it is better to sit back and enjoy the performance than watch it through your camera while trying to get that perfect shot.

RTF: For action shots, is equipment important?

SC: Equipment makes a huge difference when taking action shots. Even if you have perfect timing and ideal lighting, getting an outstanding action shot is tough. When I take action shots, it is typical that the majority of the dancer is in focus, but his or her feet are blurry. Better equipment can handle the quick movements of Irish dancing, resulting in a much clearer photo.

RTF: Is there a good position or angle for action shots? Do you want to be close up or further away from your subject?

SC: I prefer to be lower than the dancer when taking action shots, such as when the Parade of Champions is performed on an elevated stage. When the dancer does a move where he or she is off the ground, being slightly below the stage creates the illusion of a larger leap or higher jump. Most moves look livelier when picture is taken of the side of the dances as opposed to straight on because you can typically see both the front and back legs of the dancer. The dancing can also look more dynamic when some of the floor is in the photo so you can see how high the dancer has gotten off the ground.

For dancers heading to the CLRG All Irelands (October 24-31 in Killarney), Shannon is booking 15 minute photo shoots outside the venue. If you are interested in a session, email scohoonphotography@gmail.com or contact her through her Facebook page.

Do you have any photography questions for Shannon? Leave them in the comments below, or email us and we’ll get them answered! Do you have any good photography tips? Join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Image by: Shannon Cohoon

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