Capturing the Movement of Dance with the Nikon CoolPix A

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Whenever a Nikon CoolPix is mentioned, our thoughts immediately turn to Ashton Kutcher commercials and point-and-shoot cameras. However, the Nikon CoolPix A—a mirrorless APS-C compact camera with a fixed 28mm equivalent F2.8 lens and CMOS sensor—takes some pretty amazing photos for a camera that can fit inside your pocket.

In a recent photo contest this past September, Nikon sent each of its dealers, pictureline included, a Nikon CoolPix A. Of the selected vendors, each employee was allowed to submit two photos taken with the Nikon camera. More than 500 photos were submitted and six winners were selected—one of which being our very own Nathan Sweet of pictureline! Nathan Sweet not only won himself a brand new Nikon CoolPix A, but managed to get a shot that he had been thinking about for years.

Nathan was kind enough to give us a little insight into how he captured these shots using the Nikon CoolPix A.

What type of photography do you specialize in?
I specialize in sports and dance photography, so much of my personal work focuses on the art of dance. When I was going to the University of Utah I was shooting for the Daily Utah Chronicle, and I took an assignment to photograph a ballet department dress rehearsal. Several dress rehearsals later I started photographing dancers individually in and outside of the studio. For the first few years I photographed dance I focused on capturing the movement of the dancer on a seamless background. Now my personal work is focused on photographing dance in the world around us, as well as in the studio. Dance for me is an art that is beautiful to capture by freezing movement in time. I have the utmost respect for the time and training dancers commit to performing the art of dance with amazing skill.  

So did you have a particular shoot in mind for the Nikon CoolPix A?
No, it just kind of happened. We were shooting ballet dancers (Hannah DeMattia is the ballet dancer featured in these shots) in downtown Salt Lake City and looking for cool locations. As I said before, since much of my photography focuses on the art of dance, I was already planning to take these photos. I didn’t go into it saying I was only going to use the Nikon CoolPix A.

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Why did you decide to try the Nikon?
I first began this shoot using my Canon DSLR 5D Mark I with a 17-40mm f/4 lens, (which was used to take the photo below). I was planning on using the Nikon CoolPix A, but only for a couple shots for the contest. In the middle of the shoot while using the strobe, I decided to bring out the Nikon CoolPix A. I put a PocketWizard on the hot shoe, took a few shots with the Nikon CoolPix, figured out the fixed focal length, and pretty much shot with the Nikon for the rest of the night.

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Canon DSLR 5D Mark I with a 17-40mm f/4 lens
Photo: Nathan Sweet Photography
Dancer: Hannah DeMattia

How did you capture these shots with the Nikon?
For the sun flair shot I set my ambient light to the desired exposure and I told the dancer to make sure she was completely in the sunlight. I framed my shot just on the line of the sun and shade from the building. The dancer was backlit and completely dark. Since it wasn't quite the look I was going for, I decided to add a fill light. By using PocketWizards on the hot shoe of the Nikon CoolPix A and a 600 w/s strobe, battery powered with a beauty dish modifier, I was able to light up the dancer giving a nice quality of light to show the dancer’s grace and power. We were able to do several different poses using the same lighting setup, composing the shot differently for each pose.  

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Nikon CoolPix A: f/14, 1/300, ISO 100
Photo: Nathan Sweet Photography
Dancer: Hannah DeMattia

After driving around Salt Lake City we found a street crossing to take some more pictures, which is where I got the middle of the street shot. I wanted to have a clean urban environmental background to showcase the ballet dancers in front. By this point the sun had set and the city lights were the only things lighting the streets; I had to turn up my ISO to 800 to get a good ambient exposure. By using the hot shoe of the flash again I was able to use the PocketWizards to trigger the strobe set to only 10 w/s.

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Nikon CoolPix A: f/2.8, 1/100, ISO 800
Photo: Nathan Sweet Photography
Dancer: Hannah DeMattia

Do you have a favorite shot taken with the Nikon CoolPix A?
Definitely the middle of street shot. It’s been in my head for two years and I was finally able to do it. It was funny because we had to push the crosswalk button, wait for the light to change, run out with the light and get three shots, run back, and then do it all over again.

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What is your favorite feature of the Nikon CoolPix A?
The small size was great; it was really fun to shoot with. The 3-inch high-resolution screen was also really helpful. The CoolPix A has a very sharp lens, so a lot of detail was picked up. I also really liked the hot shoe and the navigation was super easy. I was able to shoot in manual the whole night. It’s a really high quality camera that will fit in your pocket.

Are there any drawbacks to the Nikon CoolPix A?
There is no viewfinder and no zoom. The fixed focal length is also really wide. At 28mm that became my biggest challenge when shooting with the Nikon camera; however, with the fixed focal length I was challenged to think more about the composition before taking a photo. 

Challenging focal length or not, Nathan managed not only to win the Nikon photo contest, but capture some amazing shots with the CoolPix A. To see more of Nathan's work, give his website a visit!