At some point in a belly dancer’s life, they would like a photoshoot in their belly dance costume. If they want to do it right, go professional with your dance portfolio, here are few pointers should consider for your photos.
Every once in a while I get the privilege of photographing beautiful ladies from a couple of the belly dance studios here in Nagoya, during their shows.
Belly dancing has always fascinated me, and having very talented dancers as models makes for a fun, challenging, and rewarding photo shoot. Belly dancing is one of the most expressive dance styles. Its language conveys a wide range of moods, including mysterious, romantic, spiritual and meditative. It suggests raw emotions through movement. It’s artistic, expressive, passionate, elegant and graceful. Watching a belly dance unfold, you see beauty, softness, and seduction. It creates hypnotizing dimension and depth, and takes you on an enchanting journey.
Fluid movement of veils and wings, beautiful and colorful costumes accompanied by sparkling beads, shiny coins, glitz, and a variety of styles and movement give you unlimited options to shoot and experiment with impressionist photography.
“DANCING IS THE WORLD’S FAVORITE METAPHOR.”— Kristy Nilsson
Dance photography, especially indoors, brings also its own unique challenges; contrast is one of the most difficult problems you will face when shooting a performance on stage. Light is very dramatic, often colored, and is changing constantly. It takes some practice and experience to learn to handle it well. Thankfully, the LCD screen provides you with the ability to preview your exposure and adjust it if necessary.
Keep in mind that overexposing or underexposing your images can enhance the emotional expression of a scene. It is very important to know how and when to tweak the exposure to help convey mood. Take time after every photo shoot and study your images, especially the ones that you think failed, and try to figure out what went wrong. This process will dramatically improve your photography very quickly because it forces you to focus more on what you want to achieve and how to do it.
Establishing mood in a photo of a dance is not an easy task. Not only do you need to capture the performer’s unique interpretation of the dance, but you also want to add your own insight. Having some knowledge about a particular style of dance is a definite advantage, but you can start by employing elements of design like color and shape to create particular mood. For example, dark colors will suggest mystery, red will add passion, and curvaceous lines will suggest femininity. The use of darkness and the absence of colors and/or detail can evoke a mysterious mood.
Creating interesting compositions can also be challenging at first. Beginner photographers often try to include too much in a single photo with no clear concept of how to convey the message. Simplicity is the key to successful impressionist photography when attempting to capture a balance between the mood and the visual.
One of the most effective ways to capture belly dancing in an impressionist style is by using slow shutter speeds. Constant movements of the dancers give you an opportunity to show motion through blur. To accomplish this, set your camera to shutter speed priority mode. You can start with 1/10sec and then change it to a slower or faster shutter speed depending on the situation on stage and the mood you want to evoke.
Panning with a moving dancer creates a real sense of motion. With experience, you will gain knowledge of belly dancing (or any type of dance) and be able to anticipate what will happen next. This experience will enable you to quickly predict the path of a dancer, giving yourself a greater chance to achieve your desired effect.
Zooming in and out or moving your camera during an exposure can also create interesting images; they will have a more abstract feel. Focusing on details will help to provide the best outcome in your photographs. Shooting frames in sequence will also give you a better chance of getting good results. You have to be willing to shoot a lot of frames and continually adjust your technique while checking the results on your camera’s LCD screen.
Remember there are no mistakes in art, only personal choices and new opportunities. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Trying new techniques and unusual camera settings will spark your creativity and turn the photo shoot into an adventure in itself.
Here are some tips from me as a photographer.
Make sure that you’re comfortable in your costume and that it fits well. A photographer may be able to edit a few things here are there, but don’t rely on it (too much editing takes time). If you are unsure whether your costume fits well, ask a friend or your dance teacher to help you with it.
Don’t pose with unfamiliar props
Using props can be great – if you’re comfortable with them! The last thing you want to do is pose with something that you don’t usually use. This will show show in the photos in your body posture and facial expression, because you won’t look comfortable and you’ll usually be holding the prop awkwardly. You don’t have to pose with a prop – while veils and the like look great in photos, sometimes it might be better to leave them at home.
Before you arrive at the photoshoot, practice your poses! It’s ok to be a little vain here and stare at yourself in the mirror for hours because in the end you need to know how your body looks good. If you are unsure which poses to do, think of poses from dances you have done, perhaps an end pose of a dance or a mid-movement pose. If you are conscious about a certain part of your body, tell your photographer so that they can make sure they don’t accentuate it.
Weather & Lights
Weather is only a factor if you are shooting on location outdoors, which can be absolutely beautiful but also an absolute disaster! Keep in mind that if there is wind, veils and wings can become redundant as the wind will dictate the direction the veil and wings go. While a light breeze is nice, it can quickly become irritating. Make sure you arrive at your location early so that you can scout out areas you’d like to use for your photos. If you are shooting in a studio, it’s important to know what kind of lighting you’d like – dramatic or even lighting.
Remember that photo/film make up is very similar to stage make up in that it has to be exaggerated in order to show up well on photos. Look on the web for ideas for make up by looking at other dancer’s photoshoots. So if you look like a drag queen, you’re doing it right!
Don’t waste time, come prepared!
Remember that you are paying the photographers for their time. You don’t want to waste their time because you are not prepared. Coming to the shoot full of ideas is a photographers dream – it makes it so easy and so much more fun to shoot!
Don’t be afraid to talk and ask
If you have questions or suggestions, TALK to your photographer! We are always open to ideas and always willing to ask questions!
Listening to your photographer is essential to a great and productive photoshoot! Photographers know what they are doing, and you have chosen your photographer for a reason, so listen to them. Sometimes they want to try something a little more creative and that is almost always rewarding if both sides cooperate!
The most important thing to do in preparation for your photoshoot is choose a photographer you are comfortable with. Being uncomfortable is not something that can be Photoshopped out of your face – and believe me, it will show.
Although a (good) photographer will be thinking of all of these things anyway, it is also your job to do research and come to a photoshoot prepared!
I recently did a photoshoot with some dancers, and I will be putting the photos up on my Facebook page sometime soon, so if you want to see my work, you can have a look at it here in my gallery: Photo Galleries
Good luck to those planning shoots, I hope this advice was useful!