Melissa Gaston: Find The Light


Shot in the Dark: How to Photograph School Holiday Concerts

You're making memories here, folks.

Kids Christmas concert

The school holiday concert; love it or hate it, we all experience it and every year there's a room full of parents, grandparents, and friends who are trying to capture the cuteness in a photo.

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My guess is, though, that most of their pictures don't turn out as well as they planned.

Here's the reality: the lighting at most school concerts is dismal and you are usually too far from the stage to get a great shot. Crappy lighting and too great a distance creates a set of circumstances that most cameras just can't cope with.

If you have a point and shoot camera, your flash is going to illuminate (at most) the 10 feet in front of you. The result? You'll take a great shot of the backs of other parents' heads. If your point and shoot has a great zoom on it, chances are that it doesn't have a low aperture, such as f2.8. Add no flash and a smaller lens opening, and you've set yourself up for a shutter speed that's too slow to keep the image in focus. (Even if it was on a tripod, your subject is going to be moving, so you're going to get motion blur.) Raising your ISO may not even help to compensate for the shutter speed.

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If you have a dSLR, you might have a slightly better chance (unless you're prepared to be THAT parent with the giant camera and the speedlight flash who walks right up to the stage to take the shot).

Still willing to try? Then follow these guidelines:

  • Turn off your flash. It's not going to help. (If you have a big external flash, I'm just going to assume you know how to use it. You're not the person I'm talking about here, though if you're in the back of the room, it's not going to help you.)
  • Crank up your ISO. Take it as high as you can go. A noisy picture is better than no picture at all.
  • Set your Aperture to the lowest number possible. We need to get as much light in as possible. 
  • Try to keep your shutter speed above 1/125. This is really the slowest you can go to avoid motion blur of the kids.

If there's space between you and the stage, follow the concert etiquette for parents: move up to that space just before it's your kids' turn to be on and stay low. If you need to stand up or kneel to get your shot, DO IT QUICKLY and get out of the way. 

Another option would be to use your camera to take a video - cameras are more forgiving in low light on the video setting. There are also editing programs that let you capture a still photo from a video, so you may have more success that way.

While we all love capturing these milestones, remember that you could always choose to just sit back, focus on your kid, and really enjoy the show. There will be other moments to photograph.

Happy shooting!

Image Source: Flickr