Serendipity vs. pre-planning. For two days I had observed that a shaft of sunlight penetrated the Roadhouse dance floor at Folklife between about 7 and 7:30pm. Both nights I got some spectacular images. Tonight I anticipated again the light in the hall. I had brought more gear, like the long lens that I’d wished I had before (1st rule of location shooting—you always have the wrong lens on the camera. 2nd rule: it doesn’t matter. You’ll get whatever image is available to you). This night I saw the sun setting, and beginning to spread across the floor. Then it stopped. The marine cloud layer had moved in, and the sun vanished. (3rd rule: you can’t control very much. Respond to what you’re given).
So I dealt with what I was given. As the next dance formed, I walked between lines to see what things looked like, peering through the camera as I did so. The dance floor went bright with the reflected sky, and the figures of the dancers formed nice silhouettes. Another reason for walking up and down the hall was to get the dancers used to me being behind them (the contra lines were far enough apart that I wasn’t going to disrupt the dance, but I wanted them to unconsciously register my presence). As the dance started, I saw there was one spot with a bigger backlight area (where the garage-style door to the hall was open), that provided the best possibilities. Then I watched the dancers. I was seeing the movement of legs and feet making abstract compositions. There was a moment in the figure, just when the couples broke into a swing, that looked the best. I needed to choose a woman in a skirt. And I needed her to be in this specific spot. Dancers advance up and down a contra line, so it was going to happen sooner or later.
I had put together the shot, and then I needed to wait for the elements that complete it to be in position. But I can't control how it’s going to unfold. I have to trust my unconscious to know the right moment. The lovely thing about digital is that I can whack away at a situation until I know that I have it, without any per-exposure cost. In a fluid, complex situation like this, with lots of movement and blur, shooting digital is a dream.