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… 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 Winter’s Growth

For almost a week I have been documenting the bloom of an Amaryllis we received as a gift. The main reason I did this was to gain confidence when utilizing a high iso on my 7D. This camera is not know for it’s high iso capability so for the past year with that fact in my head I was guilty of underexposing images due to the fact that I was scared to go above a setting of 1600. Many times I am unable to use flash and find myself fighting for light.

For those who do not know what iso is, it is an integral part of the exposure triangle which allows more light to reach the cameras sensor. The main drawback is an image that turns out dirty. By this I mean it may have noise or grain showing. Until recently consumer model cameras were incapable of producing acceptable images if the iso was raised. I have been shooting a lot of studio stuff the past few months and dance season is right around the corner. I need to try and establish some further confidence when I need a shutter speed of 1/500 and the only way I can get there is with an iso of 2500+.

So, I set my iso to 2500, aperture to f4 on the trusty 24-105 and varied the shutter speed based on lighting conditions. The only constant light I had was the heating lamp pointing into the dragon tank. Indirect at best. Normally I would turn on the room light, and sometimes the sun came in through the windows.

We had the plant almost three weeks before it began blooming and once it started it was quite cool watching it open. The first hint appeared on Dec 23. I tried to capture an image every 12 hours or so.

12/23 09:18
12/23 09:18 1/40th
12/24 09:35
12/24 09:35 1/80
12/25 10:39
12/25 10:39 1/30
12/25 23:00
12/25 23:00 1/40

During the 26th growth was rapid!

12/26 13:11
12/26 13:11 f8, 1/13
12/26 17:40
12/26 17:40 f8, 1/160
12/26 21:25
12/26 21:25 f8, 1/10
12/26 23:11
12/26 23:11 1/800
12/27 13:28
12/27 13:28 1/200
12/28 00:21
12/28 00:21 1/8th
12/28 19:12
12/28 19:12 1/30
12/29 21:14
12/29 21:14 1/20

LR4 Noise reduction was used to clean them up a bit, but overall I am very happy with the results. If this is any indication then I have been missing out on some very good captures exposure wise. I remember one thing from my boy scout days,sitting around a fire repeating these words until it was figured it out…


Mr. 7D you have restored my faith, if you need to raise the iso to get a good exposure, go for it. It’s OK……I should have listened to Jared Polin a long time ago….

Happy New Year!

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….

Tiny Dancers

Tiny Dancers may actually be a bit of a misnomer since the age range of these dancers go from 9 – 17, but I like the way it sounds. And when you are on the upside of the middle age bracket, well we will leave it at that. I had the pleasure of spending three weeks with the competition team at my daughters dance school during their rehearsals. These young ladies and a young man spend upwards of ten hours a week honing their passion for dance in addition to all their school work and other school related activities. Most of them are honor students at their respective schools, some even made the National Honor Society’s achievement list. God bless them for being dedicated to such an expressive art form.

Tap is one form of dance I have never completely understood. I come from a musical background, I have a fairly eccentric and eclectic taste in music, hell, I can even shuffle, but I have never understood tap…..(Ok, you can stop laughing now, really I can, may not look very pretty but I can)…..Yet it is one of the most popular forms of dance there is. I do know one thing about it though, it is incredibly hard to do. Before my daughter started dancing I saw tap in a much different light. Other than Grover, Hines, the late Sammy Davis Jr. and White Nights anyone? I had not a clue. I get it now and continue to be amazed with how some of these girls can move their feet.

Jr Tap Trio

My Daughter has been part of the dance school for 7 years now and this is her third year on the competition team. This is the reason I have become so enamored with photography. I think I had a Powershot 30x when she first started dancing and once she made the team the upgrades began. From a Nikon D60 to my current horse the Canon 7D. Taking photographs in the dance studio was indeed a challenge and it certainly tested the iso capability of my camera, not something the 7D is known for. I hovered between 1600 and 2000 for all the sessions switching between a 20mm f2.8 and a 24-105 f4 all while trying to keep my shutter speed above 300. I had a 50 1.4 with me but aside from a handful of shots I rarely used it. Teenagers either love pictures or they hate them and I was very worried that some of them would feel awkward with a camera pointed at them at such close range. Maybe it would prepare the new girls for the stage, I thought, for they are stepping into the world of unknowns. The director of the dance school was very helpful in making me feel at ease. As much as I was doing this for me and my experience, I was also doing it for her and this helped put things into a different perspective.

Onto some pictures.

All the dancers on the team are required to take ballet, these are the “Senior” girls working on some technique.

Sr. Ballet

And one of the juniors:

Jr BalletLast year was the first time our school had a competition ballet, I was incredibly proud that my daughter was one of the five girls selected for it. I feel ballet is the purest form of dance, emotional, beautiful, graceful and strength like an ox. The calves on these girls are better than some of the cyclists I know. One of my goals is to photograph a dance troupe professionally but right now I feel lucky to have a daughter heavily involved in dance and a studio director that is kind enough to let me to hone my skills.

My daughter during a momentary pause in the action:

A short respite

Competition ballet group getting some instruction

Comp Ballet

A senior working on a tap routine:

Sr. TapOn stage these girls look and dance like mature adults, I am still in awe of them after every performance, I marvel at the excitement they exude, I have experienced tears of joy, I have shaken my head in amazement, I have felt sorrow when they do not win. Our first competition of the year is in two weeks – NYC here we come!  Good luck!

Flying...Thanks for stopping by, till next time…

What’s to Come

I just wanted to follow up on my ISO remarks from the previous post, and show a great example of the difference between somewhat low vs somewhat high iso settings. As I performed my weekly duties of taking the garbage receptacle out to the curb I noticed a spider preparing his dinner table for the night. There was a little light shining on him from the front of the house so I decided to grab a couple of shots. Too little light, did not feel like flash so I grabbed a couple, did not get what I wanted and said see ya to the spider.

So for whatever reason as I walked back into the garage that was illuminated by two 60 watt bulbs in the door opener, camera still in hand, I saw some color and decided to experiment with iso settings in low light. For those of you who may not understand or appreciate this I am hoping these pictures clear it all up.

Both pictures were shot handheld,135mm at f2, 1/60th of a second. (waiting for it….ok, done?)

The first was shot with an iso of 400

iso test at 400

The next with an iso of 2500

iso test 2500

The moral of this story for me anyway is do not be afraid to use high iso settings next time! AND use the rain ex before it gets cold out.

So, what’s to come? That was the title right? I am an avid follower and used to be an occasional participant in the world of bicycle racing so I will be checking out and shooting for myself a local race this weekend. On tap is also a trip to West Point and a visit to the NY Renaissance Fair. It is also time for me to seek willing participants (volunteers) for portrait work. If you or anyone you know would be interested in hanging out for 30 – 60 minutes, engage in pointless banter and get a couple of pictures out of it all please contact me. Location totally flexible.

Thanks for reading, till next time…