J wrote to me on Flickr to ask the following:
I went to Olvera to shoot photos with my first SLR, Nikon D7100 and I came upon the Aztec Dancers. I probably took 100 photos and not a single one really looked great. Some were good, but nothing that gives you that "WOW" impression that I got when I saw yours. Do you have any advice on shooting frenetic dances like that? I was getting close and I feel like this undermined me because I don't have any good full body shots. I would love to know your technique behind your photos of the dancers. It would help me out a lot!
Here's the technical stuff: Canon 5D Mk II, 24-70mm lens at 70mm. ISO 200, 1/1000s, f/5.6, no flash.
For me there are several important considerations for this image.
Firstly, speed. I knew I wanted to freeze the action. In this dance, the dancer turns abruptly and I wanted to have the feathers in motion, but fairly crisp.
Next, composition. This image isn't cropped in post. I had zoomed in to capture the dancer from the hips up. I could have shot full length, but then would have lost the impact of the feathers in the head dress. They only matter if they are a large part of the image. This image would be weakened if it were full body. I also positioned myself where the background she is against at the turn are fairly bland and solid. The dark of the tree, the gray/white of the building. Being against a relatively bland background helps her "pop" as the colors in her costume have no competition.
Lastly, patience. I would love to say this was one shot and done. It wasn't. These dances are long in duration and repetitive, so the dancers are dancing the same pattern over and over. This wasn't the first time I had seen this dance, so I had an idea for the shot. Once they started dancing, I found where she turned and where I could get the best composition. Then every time a dancer came to this spot and spun, I captured an image. Some didn't get a nice profile. Some didn't have movement in the feathers. Some had the feathers across the dancer's face. I don't know how many, but many. This was the most important thing to get this shot. Watching the patterns and finding the right place to shoot from. Take your time, plan, know what you want. Yes, you will miss out on some opportunities early on, but you will be considerably increasing the probability of a great shot later on.