Tutorial: Dance Recital Pictures

End-of-the-year Recital pictures are coming up!

Your son or daughter has been working so hard at learning the dance. You want so badly to capture it, but last year’s pictures were awful. The lighting in an auditorium is not conducive to good pictures. You kept getting pictures of the back of other audience members’ heads completely overexposed.What can you do differently this year?

Before I start the list, please find out if photos are even allowed. The studio where my kids study has a strict no-photo policy, and as hard as it would be as a mom, that is a rule I would absolutely respect. (I say “would” because in this case I’m their official photographer!)  Many studios and venues have rules for what is and isn’t allowed, and it’s important to find out what those are before you start.

First up, as a dance photographer, I have to give a plug to the person the studio hires to get pro shots. They have the advantage of training, practice, equipment, and location that you just don’t have. It is worth paying them for the shots they get, and relaxing and watching the dancing as it happens.

But if you’re like me and just want to get your own shots, here are some hints on getting the best possible pictures.

1. You need to make sure your flash is off before it starts. Just about every camera made in the last 15 years, from cell phones to kids’ unbreakable cameras to pro SLRs, have the option of turning off the flash. I did have one in college that wouldn’t even let me do that much, but that was 20 years ago, and I probably bought the camera and a couple rolls of film for $20. So do yourself a favor and figure out how to turn off the flash before you get to the theater.
Even if they don’t tell you to turn off the flash (for the safety of the dancers, it really is important), you should turn it off. Otherwise all you’ll get is a very bright shot of the guy’s head sitting one row up. Your flash can’t possibly illuminate the stage, so don’t make your camera think it should try!

2. For point and shoots and SLRs, you should have “scene” options. If you choose either “sports” or “young child” as your setting, it will be the best possibility for the low-light, fast-action situation you’ll be in.
If you want to do the settings a little more yourself, you can go into Aperture priority mode and set the aperture as big (small number) as you can, as well as put your ISO up high, too. This is what I do for concerts and darkly illuminated church services, too. You may end up with more noise than you like, but it’s better than blurs across the stage.

3. The hardest part of dance photography, once you figure out the settings for your camera, is anticipating the movements. Most dance (other than some styles of modern) has a decent amount of repetition. If you watch closely and pay attention to how the dance goes with the music, you can find tendencies and anticipate the big jumps and poses. I can’t give you specifics because every form of dance is different, but watching and listening are the best ways to learn the patterns.
Being a trained ballet dancer, as well as having a degree in music, has helped me anticipate good dance shots. If you are taking pictures and don’t have that training it’s a little harder to intuit, but if you keep trying you will get some you’ll be excited about and proud of!

Tutorial: Capturing the Moment

I started out as a “mom with a camera.” I bought my first dSLR after I’d learned everything I could with a point-and-shoot, and I did it to get better pictures of my daughters.
Now that my passion has turned to dance photography, I’m finding myself using somee of the same techniques I did with my kids, and it made me realize these might apply to a ton of other situations, too!

You might have read my tutorial on not saying “Cheese” to get people to smile. But that’s really only half of it. The other half is on your shoulders, getting them to smile without the standard call-to-action.

The biggest thing that has turned my pictures from nice to WOW is that I’m getting better at anticipating timing. It’s the easiest thing to do when you start with your immediate family (this can include pets), because you know their mannerisms. You may not have ever thought it through, but at a subconscious level you know the look they make immediately before they give you a huge smile. (and if you don’t already, holding the camera up to your eye and watching them through the viewfinder will make you clue in to those mannerisms).


This takes time. But the more you focus on really getting the emotions, the more it will pay off.

So how does this transfer into dance photography, or whatever you might be interested in shooting when you’re not training your camera on kids?

It’s all about timing. It’s about learning how to anticipate what’s coming next.
The better you know the subject you’re shooting, the more you can anticipate it. That’s why ballet feels the most natural for me to shoot: I have ballet experience as well as musical training. I can see what a dancer is doing and be prepared for a jump or a beautiful pose because of that experience.

But that doesn’t mean you have to spend months getting to know a family before you can catch expressions that are truly “them.” Training your eye with the people in your everyday life is a way to learn mannerisms in general.

The longer you spend figuring out how to make your son laugh, for example, the quicker it will be to get a smile out of a boy you’ve only just met.
The more time I spend shooting hip-hop classes (a new dance style for me), the more quickly I found myself getting comfortable with African dance, one I had absolutely no experience with.

Does it mean all my shots will be amazing? Hardly! But I’m far more likely to have “wow!” pictures with each conscious practice!

Sunsets: a fun, simple hack!

Sunset has such incredible light. Even if the sun isn’t its most gorgeous (i.e. if you’re not in Orlando ;) ), it’s rich and warm and magical.

But if you have your white balance set on Auto, you’ll feel like the pictures are lacking something in that magic.


See how Hudson’s face is almost on the blue side? (we’re choosing to ignore how dark this picture is. It’s straight out of camera, which is supposed to be bad when you’re showing “before.” Go with me, kay?)


Here’s a super-easy trick to capture the magic.
Put your white balance on “shade.”

Details to that hint: If you’re usually using auto mode, you’ll want to go to “P” instead. That setting allows you to leave as much of it up to the camera as you want, but still allows you to change a little. Then everyone: Make sure your flash is off, and change your white balance from Auto to Shade. Then shoot away!!

Suddenly your pictures will look like this:



And with a tiny bit of editing, maybe even like this:


(using “(Listen to the) Color of your Dreams” from Stuck in my Head Lightroom presets)


Tutorial: Storytelling using photos

Tutorial: Storytelling using photos

There are two…wait, no, at least three, ways to use your camera to tell a story.

One is to use a storyboard. Show a series of pictures to tell a story. You can do this in Photoshop, Elements, any scrapbooking software, on paper, in Lightroom, with an app….the sky’s the limit!

A second is to have your camera capture as many details as possible. Landscapes and pictures like those by Norman Rockwell are the most common ways to do this.

A third is to capture a detail that tells a story.

Hudson went through the knee on his jeans. A pain because it means he needed new pants immediately, but more than that, to me it’s a sign that he’s growing into a new stage of little-boy-hood.
There’s a subset of work involved in creating this third kind of picture. 

The hole in Hudson’s pants are visible no matter what he does. but this picture doesn’t SAY anything.

So I took him outside and took a picture of just his legs. Draws the attention to the pants…but still lacks oomph, wouldn’t you say?

Next I had him squat down. This was easy, because I was squatting for the shot, so I told him to do what I was doing. BINGO!

I used my 50mm f/1.8 for this, which gave the rich, dreamy out-of-focus background. If you’re using a cell phone, you can use the various editing apps to give your background some blur. Or you can do it in Photoshop/Elements if you don’t have a “nifty-50” lens or photo apps! It really helps bring your eyes directly to the subject of the picture: his knee!

Tutorial: Christmas Light Bokeh

I absolutely love those shots of Christmas lights that are just big orbs of colored lights. I was so jealous one Christmas when my brother used my camera to get that shot, wondering how he knew how to be so cool.
So last winter, I finally decided to be as cool as him. And now I’ll let you in on the secret!

First, run to the store and buy a Nikon D3. It’s okay, I’ll wait.

**cue elevator music**

Just kidding. Use whatever camera you already have. Different cameras and different lenses will give you slightly different final looks, but they’ll all do this. It’s just a matter of learning how!
Though you might not want to use your kids’ little Fisher-Price camera. Just in case you were tempted to try that one.

The key to this is focusing in a different place than at the Christmas tree.
(Remember those magic eye pictures that were popular ages and ages ago? where the key to seeing it, supposedly, was that your focus isn’t directly on the picture? (I say “supposedly” because I only ever got one picture to “work” for me.) Yeah. That’s what you’re doing here.)

For Point-and-Shoot cameras:
Focus on something as close as you can. Whatever the closest possible thing is. Then push the shutter down halfway, reframe your camera to be looking at the Christmas lights, and shoot!
You can also put your camera on “macro” mode and shoot the lights. It works pretty well too!
(there really should be a sample here, and I even took it, but I’ve managed to lose it, and my daughter’s camera doesn’t work anymore so I can’t get one now. So pretend, okay? Or go get one and send it to me showing that it works!)

For SLRs:
There are two ways to do this. You could either do it the same way as for point-and-shoots, or you can shoot this in manual focus. But don’t worry, it’s virtually fool-proof.
Simply set your camera on manual focus, focus as close as you can, and then shoot the lights!

Tutorial: Edge Overlays

Written by Erin Wright

I just love using painty, inky, messy borders and edges.  They can take a photo, or a layout for that matter, from ordinary to extraordinary. And they are so versatile and fun to play with.

Charla has created some awesome new inky borders and I want to share with you a few ways you can use them to spice up your photos or layouts. I am using Photoshop CS6, and as in all things digi related, there is always more than one way to get these effects, but this is what I tend to do.
The first thing I do is get my photo the way I want it by cropping, running actions, or adjusting the brightness and contrast.  You want to take care of all of those artistic details before you start playing with the border so you can see exactly how the border will interact with the finished photo. Once you have your photo all taken care of, you are ready to bring in the border.
Now the easiest way to use an inky border is simply as is.  Usually borders come in either black or dark brown.  Using the borders like this will give your photo the look of having paint or ink brushed or spilled along the edge. To do this you open the border you want to use and simply drag it in over your photo.  Adjust it to get it lined up with the photo and you should get something like this.
This is a photo that I turned black and white using the March Madness Lightroom Presets.  Simply dragging the border on top of this photo works well because it adds to the vintage feel of the photo and does not distract from what is already going on.
Now if I want to create a slight different feel, I can play with blending modes.  If you are using Photoshop you can access your blending mode options by double clicking on the icon of your border (or other element) in the layers panel.  Under Blending Options>General Blending there is a drop down menu with lots of options.  Play around with them and get familiar with what each ones does.  When working with photos, my favorite options are usually multiply, linear burn, color burn, linear dodge, overlay, soft light, linear light, and occasionally some of the others, depending on what effect I am going for.
When working with a black and white photo, you will not get much of a difference playing with modes if your border is black.  In fact, many of the blending modes will not seem work at all.  The overlay mode will give you a very subtle tinting, which can be effective if combined with a darker border like this.photo2-together
 Another way to use borders with your black and white images is to change the color of the border itself from black to white. You do this in the Image drop down menu at the top of your window.  Go Image>Adjustments>Hue/Saturation.  This should give you a pop up menu with lots of choices.  On the lightness bar, drag it all the way over to white and hit OK.  This should change your border to white.  This creates a different but equally effective look for your photo.  You can play with blending modes again now that your border is white, but again, there will not be too much variation. Combining the white border with a second border left black will give you a different feel.
Another thing you can do with a black and white photo is to turn the border a different color.  For this one I chose blue.  (if you already know how to change the color feel free to skip to the next paragraph) To change the color of my border I opened my border in a separate window in Photoshop. Then I created a new layer using the Layer menu at the top of the window.  I then chose the paint bucket tool and changed my foreground color to blue, then spilled the blue unto the new layer.  Next I clipped this new blue layer to my border by right clicking on the name of the blue layer in my layers window and choosing create clipping mask.  Finally I merged the layer down using the short cut control e. Now my border is blue ( I know that there are other ways to change the color, feel free to use whatever method you prefer, this is simply the first method I learned and I do it without even thinking about it any more).
Ok, so now my border is blue, I drag it onto my photo and play with the blending modes.  Linear burn or color burn often create interesting effect when using a colored border on a black and white photo.  This is particularly cool with a splattery border or overlay like the ones in the Coffee Shop Overlays pack.
Now the real fun comes when you play with a colored photo. This is a photo of my daughter that I have adjusted using Bekah Boo Photoshop Actions.  I wanted to create a light playful feel for this photo, because we were having so much fun laughing and blowing bubbles.  In this case I used Linear Dodge in the Blending Modes menu to lighten areas around the edge of the photo.  I liked this, but I wanted to go even lighter, so I brought in a second border, changed it to white in the Hue/Saturation menu and thn changed the blending mode to overlay. Notice that the effect is doubled in the places where the two borders overlap.  I love how this gives the photo a light floating feel.
Borders provide an easy way to give a photo a slightly aged feel.  This is a photo that I have adjusted using the Inspired Photoshop Actions.  By itself, it is lovely and colorful, but if I want to have a bit of fun I can add some inky borders.  I used a border that had some drips, turned it white and used the overlay blend mode.  This gives the photo the look that it got a little wet at some time.  It adds interest without distracting from the natural beauty of the flower itself.  You can get a similar effect by leaving the border black, it just has more of dark feel. Both methods add some age to the photo.
Really, when working with photos you have to be willing to experiment a lot.  Try different blending modes, change the color of the elements, and keep changing things until you find what feels right.  Each photo is so different and the colors it contains combined with the colors you choose for your borders will affect the various blending modes differently.  People often ask me how I choose what colors and modes to use.  Honestly I just play around until it feels right.  The main thing to keep in mind is that you want your photo to remain the focus.  If your borders or overlays are the first thing you notice then they are distracting from your photo.
Last, what I love most about borders is that they can also be used directly on a Layout to create some awesome edging.  I love to Art Journal and borders really help an art journal page to pop.  They can do the same on a traditional layout as well.
You can use the border as paint by adding color to it to create the look of painted edges like this
Or you can clip a paper to the border like a mask and get a neat frame.
One of my favorites is to use glitter.  I like sparkle on my pages, so I will often use a glitter style or clip a glitter sheet to a border to get the feel of bling around the edges like this.
So you see, these inky borders are REALLY fun and versatile and can be used in so many ways to make your photos and your Layouts really yours!  I hope you have as much fun playing as I did.