Thirsty Belly Dancer in Desert

Sharif's Belly Dance Pictures

Derwish dancing

Belly Dance is a great subject for photography with all the dazzling colors, elegant turns and beautiful postures. Unfortunately, it is often not easy to take good pictures at performances because of low light conditions and a fast moving subject. Flash photography pretty much ruins the impression of the atmosphere, and it is a nuisance for the audience. And on most occasions you cannot put up big studio lights or jump on the stage to shoot from within 10 feet, so it takes practice and luck to take good pictures.

In my pictures I try to reproduce a sense of watching the dancer. When I watch a dance performance, I see only the dancer, not much of the surroundings, the stage, the cables and the people in the audience. Zooming in and using a shallow depth of field helps to recreate that experience. Also, I always try to avoid showing the edge of the stage, because it reduces the dance to "something that happens on a stage" (puts it in that perspective, makes it less important).
In all of this my goal is to make the dancer look good and give them confidence for their next performances - I know it works for me that way (when I see a good picture of myself, I know that at least some parts of the performance looked pretty good...). In any case, I wouldn't post a picture of anyone if I would not want it posted of myself. Facial expression and showing the joy of dance are very important in a dance picture.

The Gallery software I use makes it easy to view these pictures in large size. And it offers a slideshow feature, which is really cool! For best viewing, you should put your browser in full-screen mode (F11 on Internet Explorer or Firefox - same to go back).


For those interested in photographic technique:
After upgrading my photo equipment several times, I currently use a Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera with a 70-200 F2.8 lens (3-7x zoom, Image Stabilizer). This is a large semi-pro SLR camera that is reasonably good for low light conditions (up to ISO 6400, with little noise).
Despite all that, I find it's still iffy to take pictures without flash with the amount of light that is common in many belly dance venues. Smaller and less expensive cameras will often give quite a bit of noise and motion blur in the picture under these circumstances, and the resulting pictures often need a lot of correction (brightness, color cast). I also have a fixed 50mm lens (about 1.5x zoom) that at F/1.4 takes in a lot of light and creates a shallow depth of field. The resulting blurring of the background really brings out the subject. For really large stages like Rakkasah I have a larger zoom lens (70-300mm F/4-5.6, or 3-11x zoom, Image Stabilizer) that allows me to even get close-ups, but it needs a reasonable amount of light and some luck.
Previously (before February 2009) I used a Canon EOS 40D with a 17-85 mm lens (10MP, 3x zoom, Image Stabilizer). This is a large semi-pro SLR camera that is pretty good for low light conditions (up to ISO 3200, with little noise).
Before that (before October 2007) I used a Canon Digital Rebel XTi. This is a larger SLR type camera that is fairly good for low light conditions (up to ISO 1600, with some noise), and a relatively good value. I used an inexpensive fixed 50mm F/1.8 lens with it to get acquainted with fast lenses - this lens is highly recommended!
And before that (before November 2006) I used a Nikon Coolpix 5700 (5MP, 8x zoom) digital camera. Good when there's plenty of light, but disappointing in low light - the ISO 400 and 800 settings have lots of noise.

For indoors with no flash it is best to choose as high a film sensitivity (ISO) as the camera reasonably allows. If possible, choose Aperture Priority and use the largest aperture (that gets the most light into the camera, and will give you the best shutter speed possible. It will also blur the background nicely to make the subject stand out. But it requires precise focus, and generally won't work for troupes). In general, to avoid trouble with camera shake you need a shutter time of 1/30th second or faster. Moreover, to 'freeze' the action of a moving subject you'd like to take that even shorter, 1/100th second or less. If the shutter time you get is much longer than 1/30th of a second you will have to use the flash; if it's under 1/60th you can only do poses well, and movements with some motion blur. Camera shake should be avoided as much as possible, especially with shutter speeds under 1/60 s; a tripod or image stabilizer can be useful. Frame the shot as well as you can to improve brightness, preserve quality and prevent noise. A good zoom lens comes in handy here! Focus on the eyes - the face is the most important part in a picture, that's a biological fact wired in our brains. Switch your camera to center-point autofocus to have more control over where the image will be sharp (press shutter half-down to focus, then recompose and shoot). You may have to use manual focus, because autofocus systems sometimes do not work in low light. This is not as bad as it seems when you are far away from a stage anyway, then the distance is pretty much the same all the time. Time the shutter a bit in advance to allow the camera to react, so you may have to click when the dancer is just coming out of a turn to get a nice frontal view. Poses are much easier...