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!