Photographing a dancing competition, and my first proper photo sale

A while ago I was casually asked if I’d stand in for a dance photographer at an upcoming event. I agreed before the question was finished, and Sunday was the day. It was nuts. Long periods of nothing punctuated by ten minutes of frantic activity. Fun though, at least once I stopped worrying all my equipment was going to spontaneously combust.

It was a dance competition day, held at a sports centre in Worcester. The prizes are for general prestige, as well as qualifying for entry into the larger events, and a crazy number of competitions are needed to cover the many levels of dancing. The ballroom section consisted of 12 competitions, each with 1-5 dances and most with multiple heats required to whittle people down to the final six. I don’t know how many rounds I watched, but it took almost 10 hours to get through the Juniors, Juveniles, Adult Ballroom and Adult Latin dancers.

I was photographing the trophy handovers and dancer line-ups. I had it easy, really, as most competitors were experienced and didn’t need to be told ‘left foot back, right shoulder forward’. Still, I had trouble getting them to move close enough to each other that there were no gaps. I thought I was doing an ok job, but much chimping1 of the Ballroom line-ups showed various spaces through which you could drive a milk float. But I got all the necessary shots, thank goodness. At one point the announcer was ahead of me, and the trophy was being handed to the next winners as I’d just finished photographing the previous line-up. I got the shot by sliding into position, clicking the shutter before I’d finished moving. This either looked extremely cool or completely stupid.

Then, right at the end, I sold a photo! I’ve never sold anything to a stranger before. One of the winners wanted a copy of her line-up photo. I was taken aback and had no idea about price, but she wasn’t bothered and told me to send an invoice. Quite a little milestone, really.

I continued my project of trying to take dancing photographs that don’t completely suck, and by the end of the evening had enough confidence to start playing around. I put my wireless flash in various positions – it only got knocked over once, although that was bad – and wandered around the room trying to get some interesting angles. I haven’t had a chance to process them yet, but there were a couple that seemed ok. Here’s an early version:


The light level was such that the flash was on full power. Poor dancers.

  1. incidentally, anyone who says chimping is a bad thing can bite me – instinctive chimping no matter what the scenario isn’t a good idea, but 90% of the time checking the rough image is a bloody good plan. Yes, you should know roughly what the image is going to look like, but a) people make mistakes b) people have to learn. So there. []