How to get a great photograph at a feis - Shannon Cohoon - Ready to Feis - Irish dance dancing

How to take a great photograph at a feis

One of the great joys of Irish dancing is looking back years later and reliving the memories through photos – the friendships, the results, the beautiful costumes. Whether you’re taking pictures to share online with your friends and family, or simply to put the moment in a photo album, taking a good snap helps make the memory that much clearer. That said, in the crush and excitement of results, it can be difficult to capture the moment!

Photographer Shannon Cohoon has captured the images of thousands of dancers over hundreds of feisanna, and she knows what works. Shannon shares her expertise so that you can take the best possible photo at the next feis.

Ready to Feis: For the average dance parent trying to take a photo of their child during a presentation, what can they do to get a great photo?

Shannon Cohoon: I have found that one of the most important things, no matter what type of camera you are using, is to hold the camera still. This can be difficult to do, especially when your friend, son, or daughter is having a personal best day and you are getting emotional. One way to help with the movement of the camera is to hold your elbows against your body in order to stabilize your arms. It is better to keep your camera closer to your body than to hold it over your head.

I would also suggest not zooming in too far. During presentations, especially near ‘landmark’ placements, such as world qualifying, top ten, top three, etc., dancers tend to move quickly. If the camera is zoomed in right on the dancer’s face, when he or she moves it can be difficult to get the dancer back in frame to catch the reaction. I normally stayed zoomed out a little further and crop the photo afterward.

RTF: Do you need fancy equipment to get a nice shot? What about if you only have your phone?

SC: I, personally, think that a nice shot depends on what is in the photo. Sometimes the most memorable photos may not be the clearest, but show the emotion that is being felt in that moment. This can be done on any type of camera, including a camera on a phone. However, if you are looking for a high quality photo, equipment does make a significant difference.

RTF: Lighting is often bad/weird/crazy in feis venues. How do you counter the lighting so the photo isn’t too dark or light?

SC: Lighting is often unpredictable and challenging to manage. A simple fix is to turn on the flash, but depending on your position in the crowd, it may not affect the picture. On the other hand, a flash can add too much lighting and wash out the dancer. This is a situation where it is important to do your homework before the competition. Most digital cameras, if not all, have settings that can help you adjust to the lighting. Messing with the settings can be time consuming if you are experimenting at the competition, which is why it is important to know about the settings prior to the event.

If you have editing software on your computer, even if it is an extremely basic program, you should be able to adjust the brightness after the photo is taken. It is much easier to brighten a photo than to fix a photo that is already extremely bright.

Edit to add: For those of you who have emailed or commented to ask, Shannon uses a Nikon D5100, and for dance photos uses a Nikon 55-200mm lens.

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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  • New to Irish

    Your pics are fabulous! What kind of a camera do you use?