How Do I Photograph a Dance Recital?


Dance recitals can be difficult to photograph because of the fast-moving performances taking place on stages that oftentimes use low lighting for backgrounds. These conditions can cause a camera's automatic settings to misinterpret the scene, causing photographs to turn out blurry or grainy. Use these tips to gain control over your camera's settings and capture some beautiful dance recital photographs.

Camera Settings

  • Make sure the camera is set to manual control and set the ISO to a high setting, such as 1600 or 3200. This will allow more light into the camera, which is very important for high action shots. Check and make sure your F-stop settings are set as low as possible, around f/5.0 or lower, which will also allow more light into the image. For the shutter speed, use a setting that will capture enough light but one that will also compensate for the low lighting and lack of flash. Depending on the type of lens being used, anywhere from 1/60th to 1/125th of a second shutter speed should be enough to reduce blur and capture the action. Switching the lens to manual focus is also important, as automatic focus will sometimes focus on areas that you did not mean to. Also, manual focusing will allow you to take pictures more rapidly without having to wait for the internal motor to focus before taking the shot.

Camera Techniques

  • One technique that can really help with these low-light conditions is panning the camera with the subject of the photograph. This will blur the rest of the shot but will allow you to follow the dancer or subject with a relatively low shutter speed (1/60th to 1/125th of a second) and maintain the sharpness and color you would expect with a typical still shot. Practice using this technique at a rehearsal or a concert to get the hang of keeping the camera steady while following the subject, otherwise unintended blurriness will occur. If your camera has a burst shooting mode, use this to capture multiple shots, which will provide you with more pictures to choose from and will increase the chances of getting that perfect shot. This will also help with capturing leaps in mid-air.

Camera Accessories

  • Using a tripod can help, especially if using the panning technique mentioned in the last section. Make sure the tripod is stable and is set to move along with your hand. A tripod can also help capture shots using lower shutter speeds between 1/30th and 1/60th of a second. Most dance recitals will prohibit the use of flash photography because the flash can cause the dancers to become disoriented and become injured. Instead, pay attention to the on-stage lighting changes that might give you the opportunity to use a quicker shutter speed and capture the action with less blur.

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