Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Native American Dances at the Pendleton Round-Up

This past weekend I was hired to photograph at the Pendleton Round-Up in Pendleton, Oregon. This is a rodeo that just celebrated its 101 anniversary and for most of that time, the Indian Dances have been a part of this event. The Native Americans compete with each other in different categories of Native dances to win honor for themselves and their families. They also win Pendleton Trade Blankets. They make their own costumes or regalia, and they make the dances open to the general public. Lots of people, mostly Native Americans, attend the dances and if you follow a few guidelines and don't make a pest of yourself, anyone is welcome to photograph.

One thing to remember is that you are a guest and you should behave like one. Be polite, stay out of the way of the dancers and judges, and if anyone tells you to move, do it. Earlier this summer I interviewed Steve McCurry for PhotoMedia magazine, who made the famous image "Afghan Girl," and he had some interesting things to say about photographing in public. According to McCurry, he never takes a picture of anyone without some kind of verbal or nonverbal permission. For a documentary or street photographer, that's an amazing position to take. In the context of a public dance, this means that the performers are mostly fair game, since they are in a public performance, but spectators should be asked before photographing them.

In technical terms, for most of the images I used a medium telephoto (an 80-200mm f/2.8 zoom lens) on a reduced sensor D-SLR body. I shot in Aperture Priority, though I could have used Shutter Priority, and used an ISO of 800. The autofocus was set on servo mode, to follow the action, and continuous motor drive was used. I tended to shoot in bursts of 3 to 5 images and followed the movements of the dancers. It's hard to predict the movements of the dancers, or any other action-oriented event, so it's best to shoot as much as you can and edit later. During the 2 hours of the dances, I shot around 1000 images. The photos ranged from full-length shots to details. Below are a few of my favorites.