Tips for Great School Concert Photos

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With the end of year school concert season upon us here are some tips on getting the great concert photos!

1. GET CLOSE!!!!

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If you stand and take pictures from the back of the crowd, your image will look like the one above.
Dark and underexposed, because the light from the flash can’t reach that distance.

If you are lucky enough to arrive early to get a front row seat or in the first few rows, you are fine. If you didn’t, you still want to get a close as you can. Most places have a center aisle, just make your way  down to the front, staying as low as possible so you don’t block anyone’s view. Pop up to take a shot, then pop back down. Once you’ve got a few good shots, feel free to go back to your seat.
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The light is still harsh flash, but at least you can see the kids now!
Use a variety of lenses to get different shots.  Wide angles to get the whole choir and some of the location, or use your zoom to get closer or in really tight on a single singer!
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Unless the concert is at a real theatre with proper stage lighting, there most likely there will not be enough light to get a handholdable shutter speed. One option is to turn the ISO up to 1600, but that is going to make the images very noisy and soft. You could try putting the camera on a tripod, but if the subject moves at all, they will be blurred.
So most likely to get any sharp pictures, you will have to use flash.
The image below was shot with a higher ISO, and looks ok online but won’t print very well.

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Again, you want to GET CLOSE. Standing from the back and using the flash will not get you good shots. The problem with flash of course is that it is very harsh. If you have a ceiling that is low enough (12 feet or less), try to bounce the flash. Compare the two below.  The first is taken with direct, the second with bounce. You will have to open your aperture up more to let in more light (F5.6/F4.5)



Here is a closer one with bounce flash and you can see how nice and soft the light is! But this will only work if you get close with a powerful flash!



I hope you find these tips useful!
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1. Use MANUAL(M) mode. Chances are the automatic modes like shutter/aperture priority are not going to give you proper exposure or they will use too slow shutter speeds giving lots of blur. That’s not what you want!
2. Choose ISO 400
3. Set the shutter speed to 1/125th of a second.
4. Set the aperture to F5.6 or F8. Yes, by doing this your camera meter isn’t zeroed, it’s in the minus. That’s fine.
5. Pop up or turn on your flash and set it to TTL mode (or use Manual Flash mode if you want)
6. Take a test shot.

If the image is too bright, use your FLASH EXPOSURE COMPENSATION( LIGHTNING BOLT SYMBOL+/- , found on the camera or under the functions menu) to turn the flash power down. Take another shot, and if the image is still too bright, turn it down more. If you are already at the lowest setting, turn your aperture to a higher number(ex-F8 to F11)

If the image is too dark, use the FEC to turn the flash power up. Take another shot, and if the image is still too dark, turn it up more. If you are already at the highest power setting, turn your aperture to a smaller number(ex-F8 to F5.6) to let in more light. If it’s still too dark, turn up the ISO…or GET CLOSER!

Yeah, that’s going to happen with direct flash. So you’ll want to use the red eye removal tool in photoshop, picasa, or at the kiosk.  Forget red eye reduction mode…just remove it afterward.

And don’t forget to look for those fun, kids being kids moments!

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Even better would be to set up a flash on a stand in a corner so you can direct it at the stage at a 45 degree angle and trigger it wirelessly.  Just make sure the stand is secure and that no one will knock it over (or steal it) Use the same settings above, and adjust the flash power MANUALLY to get the proper exposure, as the flash isn’t going to be moving.

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By using these settings, you should get sharp images of your loved ones as they cap off the school year with song!

Any questions, send me an email

Happy shooting!

Noel Chenier

Photographer and teacher
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