Steps for Photographing a Dance Recital

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Article Courtesy by Maegan Hall


Other than a few cheesy posed 8"x10" packaged recital pictures, I have no photos of me dancing. How can a 15-second window and one shot truly exemplify all that I've learned each year? It can't; it only shows off the costume. For those who don't have a video camera, we must rely on our camera alone. Photographing a dance recital is hard. I've only photographed three different recitals and each time was totally different. Hopefully these combined tips will help. I will try to keep my tips applicable to all situations and cameras. Please note that some recitals do not allow photography. Your dance recital photos are going to be kind of dark and lack detail. You're in a dark room with no flash; it's ok.

  1. Pack Your Bag:  Have your battery charged, carry extra batteries, clean your lens(es) and have a cleansing cloth on hand. Don't forget an extra memory card. For a DSLR, pack a zoom lens (I use 70-300) and a kit lens (18-105). If possible, choose a lens with vibrations reduction (VR) or in-camera stabilization.

  2. Know the Routine: Where is your dancer? Is he/she stage left or right? Knowing where your camera is going to be pointed is important. It will help you have a plan and you can practice taking pictures of that spot on stage during a random performance beforehand. You can learn the routine by watching the dance in class or dress rehearsal.

  3. Set Your Camera: Because flash photography is not allowed, I set my camera on the highest ISO possible. Yes, there is grain. I keep the white balance on Auto and I go back and forth on Auto vs Manual metering. The focus point is set to focus priority meaning that if the picture is not in focus, the camera will not take a picture. I also set the focus to be on the entire stage (Auto) and then will zoom in to my daughter. For point-and-shoot users, I recommend the Sports setting.

  4. Have a Plan: Since seating is first-come, first-serve at our recitals, I have my husband arrive early to wait in line so that he will be first. Let your helper know where to go once the doors open and how many chairs are needed. Rehearse the plan. If possible, pick a place out during the dress rehearsal.

  5. Have a Backup Plan: This year even though my husband was first in line, the seating we chose was terrible. I couldn't see anything. My backup plan was to go up to the balcony. It works perfectly! I could see everything and my 300 zoom could handle it. It also gave me a place to rest my elbows to keep the camera still. A 300 zoom lens is quite heavy and makes it hard to keep the camera still. The backup plan to the backup plan could be to buy a DVD of the performance.
  6. Practice: When your dancer's performance starts, you are not going to have time to take a picture, look at it, change the settings, etc. You just have to shoot, shoot, shoot. The only exception would be if your dancer's performance has different lighting for some reason. But, for most of us, that means to find a dancer in other performances (placement similar to your dancer) and practice. Now is the time to change settings if need be.
  7. Brace Yourself:  No, really. I like to cross my legs high and use my elbows resting on my shin to keep the camera from shaking. You can also lean over to the armrest and use it to keep still. Breathe calmly.
  8. It's Time: You can (previously) set your camera on bracketing mode (several sequence pictures taken in a row, quickly) or you can just click away. I don't use bracketing mode because my camera is just as fast if I hold the button down. I also like to zoom in and out constantly.

Please keep in mind that if you are too busy behind the lens and thinking like a photographer, you are going to miss enjoying the dance. I fix this by "enjoying" dress rehearsal and living room performances but I enjoy the recital via video that my husband captured.


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