Sunday, April 27, 2014

Ballroom Competition

Photo #1
The San Francisco Open Dancesport Championship is an annual event here in San Mateo. Dancers from all over the world come to compete in a variety of dance styles, with colorful gowns and precision footwork the order of the day. A wide range of competition categories allow for competitors as young as nine and ten to compete against dancers of their own ages.

Establishing context can be tricky. In the 2014 event, a projected "sf Open" logo was projected on the back wall, so I positioned myself to include it. This was a good move, because the context was easily established. Unfortunately, the dancers would have to be relatively close to my shooting position if they were to be recognizable (Photos #1) and to keep the dancers presented in full length.

Photo #2
On some shots, I waited until the dancers moved closer to me.This gave me more detail in the dancer's faces, but required that I crop the dancer's legs for the lower edge of the frame. Here, we can clearly see the dancers' faces, but not their legs (Photo #2).

Photo #3
In this shot (Photo #3), I opted for a tighter composition, forgoing the background projection for clearer facial expressions. And while I lost the dancer's legs, I was able to show how the dancers must project an image of effortless joy. Another byproduct of the tight composition allows the viewer to see the competitor number, along with the "SF Open" notation below it.

Photo #4
Exposure: Lighting brings its own set of problems. Competitions like this one must be well lit for the benefit of the viewing (paying) audience. Ceiling-mounted spotlights were used, which tend to be very close to the accepted 3200 degree color temperature associated with the Incandescent white balance preset. Unfortunately, the placement of the lights themselves created hotspots at the center of the dance floor (Photo #4). In this shot, can see that two dancers are a little "hot" (overexposed). My exposure was set manually (1/200, 4.5, ISO 3200). Had I gone with Aperture Priority and applied in-camera exposure compensation (either plus or minus) I might have brought the exposure into a more usable range, but this could have become an exercise in adjustment/re-adjustment if the level of the background illumination had changed. Staying in the manual mode allows me to concentrate on framing and timing. But in spite of your best efforts, there will be some clunkers (Photo #5). So shoot, shoot, shoot! Raw to the Rescue!

Photo #5
Identifying The Competitors. Since I would need to accurately identify the competitors in my photo captions, I took advantage of the fact that every male dancer had a competitor number pinned to his back. Now the photos were made late on a Friday evening, so the soonest they could be published would be Monday. This gave me some time to view the images before the 4:00 pm Sunday submission deadline. So whenever I made a photo that I thought might make the "cut", I immediately made a second photo of the number itself (Photo #6). I chose my best images on Sunday morning and brought them to one of the officials who helped me match the numbers to the dancer's names.

Photo #6
Photographing dance competitions can be an iffy thing. Officials tend to be ambivalent to camera phones, confident that the results would not pose a serious threat to the professional photographers assigned to cover the event. But if you are "professionally equipped", you probably will be questioned. I would never photograph this kind of event unless I was working under the auspices of the Journal.