How do the pros do a parent's job?
The recital, the birthday party, the big game. It's your job to photograph these events, but each presents its own challenges. We wondered: How would a pro do it? So we got tips from top performance, wedding, and sports shooters to help make sure you're ready to capture the moments you want tor remember.
The Dance Recital
With low light and challenging angles, performance photography can be fraught with peril. So for moms and dads wanting to capture their budding ballerinas and other stage stars, Sharen Bradford, a Dallas pro who specializes in dance performances, advises: In advance of the performance, find out the studio’s photo policies. Many don’t allow parents to shoot during live shows, but will during dress rehearsals.
On the day of, “arrive early to get a seat that’s about ¼ to ½ way into the house, depending on your lens’ focal length. Avoid the front, because the angle is too steep,” she says. “And don’t run up and down the aisles looking for great angles. Find a spot and stay put.
For sharp images in low light, wait to fire the shutter until your child strikes and holds a pose.
Photo: Sharen Bradford
“Leave the compact camera at home, and shoot with a DSLR. The compact’s shutter release won’t be responsive enough, and your photos will be annoyingly ‘behind the beat,’ as dancers say,” adds Bradford. Instead, use a DSLR with a fast framing rate, high ISOs, and HD video. Video is nice because it lets you tripod-mount the camera, frame, start the capture, and sit back and enjoy your child’s performance.
For lenses, “I always recommend f/2.8s, and my favorite is a 70–200mm,” she says. Rent if you don’t own. For camera support, a monopod works for shooting from the audience or a tripod if you’re working with a longer, heavy, tele from the back of the house. A noise jacket like the Camera Muzzle ($140, street) will dampen shutter sound.
A common mistake parents make is using their camera’s auto mode. It defaults to a lower ISO and shutter speed than is needed to capture action in low light, warns Bradford, and the result is balletic blur. Use shutter priority or manual, and set a shutter speed of at least 1/160 sec. “Start at ISO 1600, and then dial up the ISOs to get to that 1/160 sec.”
Another problem with setting the auto mode: It may automatically engage the camera’s built-in flash. You don’t want this. Flash is not permitted in most theaters and can be disorienting to the dancers.
When composing shots of younger dancers, zoom in on facial expressions and hand gestures. For older performers whose technique has evolved, you can focus on technique, too. Look for pointed feet, straight legs, and clean poses. “Try to anticipate peak action by watching the knees. When she bends before a jump, shoot as your child springs upward,” says Bradford. Your photos will earn a standing ovation.
Tip: Framing the Star
“Focus on your child only. Don’t worry about groups. Young children are all ‘soloists,’ rarely performing the same step at the same time,” says professional performance photographer Sharen Bradford. Zooming out to capture the group can make for chaotic pictures.