A Community of Love

This one is a little tough for me to talk about. After attending our dance school for 13 years it has closed shop. Three weeks before recital, 5 weeks before nationals. Poof, done. No warning at all. Heartbreak, disappointment, betrayal and lord knows what other thoughts filled the minds of 75 students and their families. The five girls on the competition team have felt it the most, sticking by the studios owner last year while others departed for alternate places to dance. These are the girls that spend hours and hours a week at the studio, performing at competitions, proudly displaying their colors. Their life has been pulled out from underneath them.

When word got out about what had gone down, and it did not take long, the outpouring of love and support was incredible and 60 hours later we were able to get rehearsal space and the recital space we needed to see all of these dancers fulfill their ambitions and to show their families what they had learned during the year. Thank you to everyone who helped in getting this done. One of our teachers and our competition team advisory board are using all of their experience in arranging the show. Me, I am putting in my efforts and will be taking the group photos for all the dances at dress rehearsal. Of course this means I will not be doing my normal routine of shooting the dancers on stage, but I will be on it hard during the actual show.

Our next step is to obtain funding for the competition team to go to dance nationals. The money that had been put out by the teams parents is now gone. We do not know where it went or why it did not reach its destination, but what is done is done. We are hoping it went into keeping the studio open for as long as it could.  Hope and faith are a balancing act right now.

A Go Fund Me page for the girls has been established and lord willing, the goal will be reached and we will get them there. If you can help out just click the link. You will be a part of making five girls very, very happy.

I will check back in after recital. Lots and lots to do!

Thanks for stopping by!


Shout out to Dance Olympus/Dance America for keeping it real.

We have been traveling to dance competitions for the past ten years now, and I continually hear the same thing when it comes to capturing photographs of my girls – “no photos allowed to protect the dancers and the choreography of the dances”. While I have yet to understand how you can figure out choreography from stills, I do agree with trying to protect the dancers. Some joe schmo off the street walks in and starts popping away at the kids, not cool.  While I have mentioned this a few times, restraint and respect has curtailed me from unleashing a spree about the competitions only using this as an excuse to get more money from their attendees by selling them pictures. Which has led me to take a stance of refusing to purchase photos from any of them. Me taking photos of my team will not affect their sales in the least.  As much as this has infuriated me, I have dealt with it and not captured the girls on stage. Openly anyway.

I would like to give a big shout out to the folks at Dance America/Dance Olympus for keeping it real and allowing photography during their events. Their rules are No Video – makes perfect sense as this is how choreography really gets stolen, and no flash.  Absolutely agree there. Despise the use of flash when performing. We used to attend their events every year, and then the past three years or so the studio has had scheduling conflicts coinciding with the DA/DO events. The folks put on a very professional show and the last day is all workshops, which are required of dancers that compete. This is how you make money the right way. I will pay for good education any day. This organization allows me to do my thing, help promote our studio and give the girls a few chuckles while they look at their faces on the back of the camera.

As my daughter and her teammates have grown as dancers, I have grown as a photographer. I owe so much to them, many were my guinea pigs while I learned how to shoot in the studio. Each year we create a book for the dance school from whatever has been recorded, and a few of my prints even grace the walls. As I am sure someone is wondering about this, yes, I have full consent from the parents and our director.

And that is what I do, document our year. It is never easy capturing these dances, a style of shooting I am a bit rusty with. I did “cheat” during the solos and changed bodies to my high-speed crop sensor. When your environment is uncontrolled it is a must. If I was head on and had no distracting objects in my path perhaps I would have made a different decision. Eh, Probably not. Use the tools you have, that is what they are for. I was talking iso with  one of my music photographer friends and he was surprised when I told him that for my music stuff I am always at 5000. I can, it works for me so I do. The dance stuff I never go above 2500, especially with the crop body. Normally hanging around 2000 for this stuff as long as I can keep a decent shutter speed.

Our next competition that policy is in place so I will be gritting my teeth the whole weekend while I deal with that inane rule. My plea would be for the organizations who have this policy to state what it really means instead of hiding behind the attendees. The only thing that is being protected is the company that is selling the photos of a public event in a public place.

Well, I ended up teetering just a little bit there. Do not want to get carried away, so I am going to leave it be.

A few more from the fun filled weekend. This first dancer is the youngest on the team, she put in an outstanding solo hiding behind that mask. I get the feeling she has no idea how good she really is.

I have always loved those looks when you can tell they are fully immersed and invested in the number. Combined with the right music, it often will bring me to fatherly tears of joy. Yup, I admitted it.  My wife says I am a sap….  So be it.

Managed to capture one or two of the daughter that will be going on our walls. “But my arm is not straight” she says, exactly why it works. It is funny when they critique themselves though photos. Don’t do it. At the pinnacle of your movement it may have been perfect, I just did not record that point. Look at the video the organization is going to send you to do a critique. Just enjoy what we have in stills, and don’t worry, the bad ones do get deleted.

Thanks for stopping by!



The Final Season Begins

The final year for this era of competitive dance is now firmly upon my family as we head towards our first big event of the year. The team is smaller this time around, the daughter is a senior now, and she will be jamming out on stage with her four teammates about six more times before all is said and done. She has already been accepted to the dance program at the college she will be heading to in September, now she just needs to try out for their dance team. Yeah, I am confused about that too. Academic vs Elective?

Spent my normal run up to our first event of the year in the studio with the girls during rehearsals, and sat in for the dress rehearsal as well. I am always envious of the flexibility they have and continually say I need to do something about my own. Goals….

Even though the team is smaller this year the excitement is no less, especially with Britt doing a solo number. If I may have a father moment, I am incredibly proud of my young love, she has grown in to such a kind, caring and beautiful young lady.  Her dancing is full of expression and filled with passion.

On the flip side of this equation is the youngest dancer on the team, appearing quiet and a bit reserved, she has a smile that lights up a room and puts in a great solo of her own.

We have a nice mix of dances this year, a gorgeous lyrical number, couple of hip hop routines, a jazz and a tap in addition to the two solos. The dances are very different from what the girls are used to. For the first time in, well forever, they have a couple of different instructors bringing in some new styles and influences. Loving the fresh approach and I think the girls dig it too.

I actually called Tap predictable the other day. Compared to the other styles, photographically it is. BUT, Tap is incredibly difficult and watching it is a thing I marvel at. Shooting it is easy is all I am saying, still bunches of fun isolating the feet.

 The girls were questioning the gold jackets, but they look really sharp and fit the dance to a tee. I also think they are going to look great on the stage.

The techy, geeky stuff: On camera flash for Laura stretching, bounced off the mirror, Britt has the direct  light with a Rogue Grid attached. No flash while they were doing their routines – 2.2, 1/500th, 2000. I was done shooting when I remembered I had my 85 with me.  So of course I had to break it out and see what I could get. From that, this happened. Hey, I am a portrait guy and no matter if I shoot dance or music, I am always looking at the face.  Jamie has been in front of the lens a bit.  She has such a great look.  I tried to distract her and get her laughing but she was totally engrossed in the theme of the number.

Best of luck girls!

Thanks For Stopping by!


Competition Time!

It is that time of year for us once again. After six months of rehearsals, sans quite a few snow days, the competition team from Alice’s Dancin’ Corner is on it’s way to it’s first performance of the season. The team just had it’s dress rehearsal and other than some normal minor quirks, they are ready to go!

Alice's Dancin' Corner

The team decided to expand a bit this year with the inclusion of what I refer to as the mini’s category. Holy Cuteness! In previous years the team has been broken down into juniors and seniors. With the inclusion of the minis we can add a third classification to that and bring the teams size to 41 dancers! In relation to the dances, historically in order to emphasize a team concept there has been a very limited number of solos and duets. But with so many graduating seniors as well as an increase in the talent level of this years team we will be entering dancers into those categories as well this year. For me, as a photographer, this is incredibly exciting…..no extra arms or legs in the frame!

Alice's Dancin' Corner Alice's Dancin' Corner Alice's Dancin' Corner

That last statement may be a bit selfish sounding and rightly so. Having the ability to capture images at these competitions is challenging enough without prime real estate available, heads of judges in the way and the need to use a long lens. A long lens does much better with one or two dancers than it does with 15. Just the nature of the beast. But I love every second of it. This is probably the main reason I go short, for the most part during dress rehearsals, I do not get that opportunity during the actual competitions.

Alice's Dancin' Corner

Each year there seems to be a few dances that really stand out for me, this year that number is much more.

Alice's Dancin' Corner

Best of luck to the team this week, Dance like no one is watching!

Alice's Dancin' Corner

If you are a resident of Ocean or Monmouth County and would like to see the excitement this team generates keep May 3rd and 4th open! Details to follow.

Thanks for stopping by!

A Whirlwind Finish

A three week whirlwind of dance has come to a close and with it the end of our dance season. The end of June was the annual recital beginning with dress rehearsals,

"Secrets" Dress rehearsal Run

Followed a couple of days later with a weekend full of sold out recital performances,

Godfather _pSp

A couple of rehearsals and lots of packing for the next week then off we went to Nationals in Ocean City MD. I was not able to take pictures during the national competition. This is a whole other story which I will be leaving alone, but as always the team was amazing and scored very well for all their routines!

During my downtime from being a dance dad I was of course chasing the light. I had intended to recruit some dancers for a sunrise shoot, but at this time of year the sun rises way too early for me to stick to such a request. 5 am wake up is not my idea of a good time during a week of no work, I can not imagine the girls wanting to do it on a day they had to dance. Nevertheless, I did manage to arise early enough on one day for an attempt at getting an Ocean City sunrise. Had a small problem with some clouds getting in the way thus eliminating 95% of the color; and this turned out to be the theme of the week for me for sunrise:

Sunrise_pSpand sunset:

Sunset _pSp

I am still on the hunt for an undisturbed sunset over the water photograph, being on the east coast I need bay views but by the end of the summer I hope to have what I am seeking. Not only did the sun hide during the color hours it did a bit of hiding during the midday hours as well!

This is a view down the strip on a very stormy day from our room on the 15th floor:


Friday was the final day for competition and after all responsibilities were taken care of, it was time to do a little sightseeing! First stop was the boardwalk section at the end of the island. Ocean City has two distinct sections in their two and a half mile long boardwalk. The classic and the modern. The classic section is your typical wooden planked boardwalk with arcades and shops, a bit run down looking, old if you will.

The modern section was more to my liking. While it also had your typical boardwalk retail stores it was upbeat and filled with some quite interesting looking and uniquely named shops.

One place that I feel I have visited all too often:

NutHouse_pSpQuite tasty and recommended. An art gallery that took it to the extreme:


And some street performers that rocked! This dude is not only very talented he is also really funny and engages the crowd quite well. He can be found at The Reid Show:



Musical Performers, A large sand art display,

Last Supperl _pSp

and a few illustrative artists also were present. Our favorite artist was actually someone who uses spray paint for his pictures. We were blown away with this process and the resulting detail so we ended up purchasing one of his works. He can be found here, be sure and check out the videos. Good times.

The following day we made our way to Assateague Island to check out the wild horses:

Graze_pSpThere are about 105 of them on the island and we managed to come in contact with about 20 of them. They do not get spooked by humans but have been known to bite if you try to touch them. Just imagine the look on the face of a visitor when they pull into a trail head parking area and see this:

Respecting the Handicap Spot-pSp

We saw one that was limping and asked a park ranger if they intervene at all. They will only intervene if an animal was injured by human interaction. If the horses fight and one gets hurt natural evolution is in play. Fair enough. This is definitely a place we will be visiting again to do some camping. Maybe we will even have a few visitors stop by for dinner…I was incredibly thrilled with some of the shots I captured of these magnificent creatures. Off to the printers we will be going.

We took a beach trail as well, did not see any horses on that one but came across a road (Baltimore Avenue) that was washed out in a 1962 Nor’easter and devastated the entire area as well. Much like Sandy did to the Jersey Shore last year.


We met this little guy at the information center:

ScreechOwl _pSp

A day concluded, a wake up and a trip back home. Part of our short jaunt includes a ferry ride spanning a 17 mile channel from Delaware to New Jersey. I was hoping to have some Dolphin photos but they stayed out and away from the boat so I only was able to capture one as it was swimming. No jumps today…The jetty’s on the Delaware side are very nice aesthetically and I did manage to capture this image which eluded me on the way in.


Have a great summer, thanks for stopping by! Till next time…

A Mighty Tally for the Dance Team

What a fantastic weekend! The dance school had 15 numbers in their latest regional competition held in NYC – The total tally was 12 Firsts, two seconds, one third, Best Costume, Overall top score Large Group, First runner up high score small group  and second high score runner up for Line.

Fourteen dance schools gathered in Brooklyn for this regional competition. All of our dances were in one day which meant a very long day for the team. The first one kicked off at 08:15 and the last one went on at 21:15.  I was exhausted by the end and all I did was take pictures of them, I can only imagine how they felt. Our daughter was in six of those dances including the first one and the last one but her adrenaline was still going at 23:30. Ah to be young again….

I was chided by my wife for not getting many pictures of our daughter during one particular dance but here’s the thing – when I am shooting them I do not look at who they are, I look at how they are. Body positions, expressions, groupings and lighting. There are those dancers though who always seem to be in my frame though and some who do not make it in. I try and spread the shots out to get everyone, but it is difficult at times isolating one person in a crowd of moving dancers.

A shout out to the mom’s who help with the costume changes! Their day can be as stressful as the dancer’s.

Lets get to it!

1st place in category and winner of Best Costume.

135mm, f2.8, 1/250, iso 1250

I shot a 135 mm prime lens for the majority of the day and I think I went more vertical than horizontal because I was close to the stage. I love that lens, It is fast, crisp and clean. I so desire the infamous 70-200 2.8 IS but a bit out of budget for me at the moment.  I did alter my position in the room for a couple of the small groups and used a 200 mm prime but the light fall off was not too my liking so I reclaimed my spot against the wall, stage right within the first ten rows. I managed to get myself into the front row during the last two hours and used the 24-105 f4 for some wider takes.

It has proven very difficult to chose a favorite picture from the weekend but this one is definitely in the running. Form, texture and emotion! And my slightly bohked out daughter in the background.

Enchanted pSpThis next dance screamed black and white so I tinkered with a black and white conversion in Lightroom. One of our new dancers made this shot rock!

109 BW

And I should include my daughter here too…Love the expressions…The dance is called Monsters.


When we had a break of more than 90 minutes I cleared my card, putting the pictures on the laptop and external hard drive. Naturally once they go on a computer you want to see how they look, then you see some that you really like, then you edit those and of course once that is done might as well get them up for the parents and team to see. I was hoping this would generate some excitement for everyone. This is the first time I have turned around the shots that quick. I was also much more selective than last year in depressing the button so I did not take as many shots. I will admit that once I got home and viewed the posted ones on a desktop there are some that you can tell were quick edits on a small screen. I am currently going through everything on the desktop for full viewing pleasure.

This shot is from the rear of the room with the 200. Not quite as clean as the ones from the front. This is one of my favorite dances and one of the ones I will be keying in on for our next competition.


And another with the 200 from the first dance after I changed, looks like I was not dialed in quite yet. The shutter speed was too slow so we can see some motion blur here.


While I love my prime lenses it does prove difficult to compose in tight quarters with action. A few shots I have were great except a hand would be missing, or the feet, but live and learn for every press of the shutter is a new learning experience for me and one that I can build on for the next time.

This next dance the had the highest overall score for large groups, first place in its category and brought warmth to a cold and snowy day. It also had the judges overjoyed because the girls incorporated their props into their routine which apparently does not happen that often. This competition has the judges and the audience all on one level, the stage is elevated about three feet off the ground, so heads are always in the way and I am constantly cursing at them. This is also the reason I prefer to shoot at an angle at this venue and do my best to avoid said heads in the way.


Much like any event you see a little bit of everything at these competitions – I will leave you with this…..

First I must preface this by saying….

It is not our dance….

Check out the shoes…..

Dance competition right????     speechless…..


Thanks for stopping by! Till next time…

Dress Rehearsals

The dance school had their dress rehearsal today for our upcoming regional competition in Brooklyn. This was also a dress rehearsal for me, as it has been a while since I have taken crappy light action photos. The project I did in December for the school was low light, and for the most part my 7D handled it quite nicely and produced some very nice photographs. I also benefited from being very close to the dancers. Today, not so much.

R1Phil Shepherd_-206

My goal today was to get some wide-angle shots of the dances and I did succeed in doing that. Today though my throw away counts were much higher than normal. Since I am a canon guy….5D mark III anyone? l can dream right? I was tempted to ask the light guy for some more juice, but we were guests and I wanted the challenge.

The overhead pots were  the only ones on here, the strip in the back is not on.

R1Phil Shepherd_-200

The past couple of years we have had dress rehearsal at one of the local elks lodge’s and because I am who I am and the space was isolated I very well could not be present when the dressing rooms were in the same room as the dances!   This year rehearsal was held at a local high school which meant all was safe for me. Sweeeet!

So back to this light stuff and my desires for wide-angle today. The competitions also have some low light but it is your typical indoor event stage lighting. I can get away with an iso of 2000 and produce a decent exposure. I was at 2000 today and my meter barely registered. The actual competitions are not wide-angle friendly. Lots and lots of heads in the way. Heads of the audience, heads of the judges and a riser in the middle holding the music and photo crews. So it is more of a long lens day and normally from a slight angle. Today was for the groups, not something I often get to do.

The opening of this dance…..picture Peanut on steroids. I had one of those mouth wide open in disbelief moments.

My apologies to the dancer I cut out, just was not wide enough for this next one.

From the same dance, and to show a good example of the challenges of stage lighting:

Different LightThere looks to be about five different textures of light in this one. Good times! Very difficult to edit, impossible for me to do. I am not that skilled.

One of my favorite shots of the day, and a dance I am looking forward to shooting live:

Looking up

My favorite discipline is still ballet and these young girls are beautiful. The light even adds an interesting pattern


Five days to go!  Wish us luck!

Before I sign off, I just had a fleeting thought of what some people may be wondering. Am I a dance dad. Technically speaking, yes. I have a daughter who is very involved in dance and my wife and I support her artistic desires 100%. But we leave it right there, we know she is in good hands. I do not think anyone in our studio is remotely close to resembling that show that I have seen for about 15 minutes just to fulfill my curiosity. I will even say this, dance moms is like the show Jersey Shore. Neither one of them is a true representation of what either is really like. Reality TV my @%%. Bring back The Sing Off, that was enjoyable.

All for now, Till next time….