Social Dance Photography Tips


Nowadays it is very popular to have social dancing as hobby; people go dancing to the themed parties, special events, and travel to the international dance congresses. So definitely the subject of social dance photography is getting more interest worldwide. Doesn’t matter what kind of dance you enjoy the most – the challenges of capturing a great dance moment are very similar.


Have you ever seen dark, blurry photos, taken from a weird angle of yourself on the dance floor? I bet your answer is yes. Being a dancer myself I could relate to such matters too, which made me realize that it’s not an easy task to get great dance shots. So I started practicing.


Gladly I had a lot of opportunities to do so due my active role in growing Zouk community in Abu Dhabi, capital of United Arab Emirates.

Zouk is a Brazilian dance; very sensual and addictive. It is known as the dance of the 21st century, and is becoming viral all over the world. The rhythm of Zouk gives dancers a lot of flexibility and freedom to experiment and adapt their style to the music. It offers a lot of beautiful poses for photographer to capture (head flicks, body rolls, spins, twirls, dips and various hip movements).

Let’s look at the challenges of capturing beautiful dance movements and how to overcome them:


A dark environment

Social parties are usually happening in bars, restaurants, or ballrooms where the lights are dimmed. The trick is to expose for the ambient light (use a slower shutter speed, open your aperture as much as possible, increase ISO – up to 1600 worked fine with a Canon 5D Mark II), and use second curtain shutter sync for your flash. For Canon 5D Mark II users that option is located under External Speedlite control>Flash function settings>Shutter sync – check your camera’s manual if you have a different body. Not a problem if your shutter speed gets really low – you still will get last part of the frame frozen, thanks to those flash settings. You can get really creative if the ambient lights include lasers and rotating heads. By moving your camera sideways when the shutter is open you will get strikes and lines which will make your photos even more interesting. Sometimes it is hard to get focus right in a dark environment, so I usually have small pocket laser with me to light the dancers at the moment of focusing.


Direct flash

Often with this option you get overexposed figures of dancers and a dark, underexposed background. If possible, scout the environment before the dance event. Search for white walls and ceiling, which can work as a large soft box to reflect light, and use bounce flash instead of direct flash. Another alternative is to use a portable speedlight softbox off-camera to diffuse, and soften strong light.


Shutter delay

Have you ever pressed the shutter release button and the slight delay gets you a photo of dancers with their backs to the camera, instead of what you imagined? Try to study movements (if you are not dancer yourself) to oversee what move comes next and press the shutter just before that so you catch the right moment. Each camera is slightly different, so test yours to understand.


Camera angle

If your camera angle is too high the dancers’ heads will look bigger and their legs shorter – not always pretty to look at. I usually shoot at the chest level, or in some situations – waist level. Sometimes experimenting with getting really low works well too. Decide on the go what works for you – judge the available space between you and the dancers, and keep in mind how you’re using your flash (if you are bouncing it – you need some distance).


Lens choice

My favorite social dance photography lens is 24-70mm f/2.8. It serves me well most of the time, though it depends on size of the party. If the crowd is big and you would like to show that, you might switch to a wide angle lens from time to time, for example, a 16-35mm f/2.8.


Full-body shots or close-ups?

This is up to you again, depending on dance aesthetics. One note: do not cut off hands or fingers and include a little space around the subject, so photo can breathe. Although this is very subjective, sometimes it can create a different mood when you fill the frame really tight.


Lastly – keep practicing

Apply the general rule of photographers; the more you practice – the better shots you get!


I wish you happy social dance photography; hope you will make dancers look beautiful and graceful! Catch your moments!

Please share your experiments in comments below and ask any questions there as well.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Viktoryia Vinnikava is a self-taught photographer, born and raised in Belarus. She developed an interest for photography in her childhood fascinated by the mystery of the darkroom, and inspired by family photographs taken by her father. Several awards winner in Middle Eastern photography competitions. Member of Wednesday Group Photographers International (WGPI) and Abu Dhabi International Photographic Society (ADIPS). She also holds A FIAP distinction from The International Federation of Photographic Art.

  • Zubair

    Awesome article, so very well explained and demystified. Learnt some interesting tips. Thanks

  • Hi Viktoryia,

    Thanks for sharing this..great article!!!!!

    But my question is on freezing the subject while on the slow shutter speed? How to do that? Could you please share your thoughts on that?
    Many thanks

  • Hello Jai! Thank you for your question 🙂 Actually in such situation flash helps to freeze the action so don’t forget to put your flash settings into second curtain shutter sync!

  • Glad you enjoyed the read Zubair! Hope to see your experiments with capturing some dancing!

  • Many thanks for your feedback. I never tried it so far. Let me experience this. Thanks once again. Great learning!!

  • Pierre

    Great article with many valuable technical tips for taking action shots in low light conditions. Of course it also helps to have the talent to carry it off ! Great photos too!

  • Thank you Pierre for your valuable feedback!

  • Ferveez Mohideen

    Great Photos and Excellent article….this definitely requires lots of practice (for Zouking & Photographing), you seems to have mastered both. enjoyed reading the article and learnt a lot. Thanks for sharing

  • Great article.
    Please note that Zouk is from French West Indies and not Brazil 😉

    I’ve been using a Nikon 50mmm f/1.8 and a Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 with a D5200. I’m pretty happy as I do prefer close-ups. I’ve been testing cobra fklash and camera flash. I do rather use manual focusing as AF struggle a lot.
    You can see some of my shot here :

  • Some nice shots there Fabrice! Thanks for sharing! Manually focus in the dark is pretty challenging too! Camera built flash gives me, unfortunately, unpleasant results that’s why I started searching other options (such as bounce flash)

  • Thank you Ferveez! Hope to see your experiments in capturing dance moments some day!

  • Deb H

    Thank you so much. I love the joy you have captured! Could you explain a little more about how you use the laser to help with focus? How do you manage both the camera and the laser? And, how do you time your compositions using second curtain sync? Thanks again!

  • Peter

    ??????? ????????! Great article and amazing shots!
    Checked out your Flickr page too! Nice stuff!)

  • A much welcomed article. There’s plenty of budding photographers, even experienced pros, who are lost when the lights go out. As a photographer who does many dance parties of bar/bat mitzvahs and weddings, I have refined a focus (sorry double photo pun) on capturing the spirit of the party, not simply the dancers movements.

    There’s several key ways to go about this that the author touches on, such as using a slow shutter/high ISO + flash to both illuminate the room while “freezing” the dancers’ movement. Going a step further, I sometimes employ a quick zooming to blur the background lighting, or quickly pan the camera during a long exposure. You’ll get many poor shots, but the few that work can be dramatic.

    One more thing, scan the room to see if you can frame up more than one couple at a time. Their interactions can be funny.

    More photos on my site:

    And on YouTube:

  • Philippe

    Excellent article !

    I agree with all your advices when shooting dance events! So true.

    I sometimes shoot ballroom competition (as an amateur), and my favorite lens is a 50mm f1.4, because it gives me some a bit zoom (due to the size of the floor), and performs really well in low light. (I don’t use a flash for the security of the dancers)

    Here are some pictures took during a ballroom dancing competition in 2012:

    My favorite image is the one attached (in 2014).

    As you said, practice is the key, but also knowing the type of dance helps you anticipate the next move !

  • Thanks Deb for your questions! It’s not so easy to focus and take shot at the same time, true.. I use back button for focusing so usually I focus once on one couple, and then trying to catch ‘the moment’ as they more less stay at the same focal distance. About flash second curtain sync – it is not really related to the timing. Just knowing the dance aesthetics helps with choosing right moment to click the shutter..

  • Thank you Peter for great feedback and attention to my Flickr page:)

  • You are absolutely right, Normanh! It’s very important to capture the spirit of the event/party! And yes, it’s quite fun to experiment with long exposure shots execution! I saw once at the party that one photographer was literally shaking the camera on long exposure to get very colorful neon strikes (from moving disco lights), and some results were amazing! Thank you for tips about zoom – gonna try this technique while photographing my next party! Loved your photography – seems you captured happy times!

  • Beautiful set of dance photos Philippe! Agree with you that your lens does an amazing job, but I know that you as photographer use your talent and knowledge to create such great memories! Thank you for sharing!

  • JSummar

    Great article! I’ve been waiting for an article that addresses this very type of photography, as I am a competitive West Coast Swing dancer myself. When I’m not taking photos, I’m sometimes found at a dance competition. I have recently started taking photos of the fun we’re all having dancing. I know of Zouk, but have not tried to learn it, yet. WCS is my addiction…next to photography, of course. Last year I went to a large national WCS competition and shot this photo of a hip-hop dancer during the Cabaret division. Thanks so much for the great tips! Happy dancing & snapping!

  • Wow! Amazing shot you’ve captured! Congratulations! Well done! Wishing you more of such great moments!

  • Marg

    Thanks for all your tips. I would never of thought of them. Practising with the tips you provided sure will help make it a little easier to get started

  • Glad you enjoyed the reading Marg! Definitely try it – I bet you will have a lot of fun trying to freeze the beauty of the dance!

  • Regina Peterson

    I teach dance lessons, but I am also an avid photographer. In order to promote our dance class and competitions, I am trying to take really nice photographs. I really like these tips, especially the direct flash. Shutter delay is a great tip as well.

  • I agree with you, Regina: with beautiful photos it’s much easier to promote dance classes! Glad you liked the article! 🙂

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